Peer Editors: Sarah Spradling and Daniel Riekena
Thesis Statement: Donatello’s marble David was made as a separate commission for the Palazzo della Signoria because of its style, base shape, and attention to detail.
A David Debate
Dating a work of art and determining its creator is rarely easy. This task is made more difficult when there is little to no primary source documentation about the work. Without paperwork to lead them in the right direction, art historians have to look to other means to determine who created the work and when it was created. This means analyzing the work and looking for clues, such as the style, dimensions, base, and skill level needed. This process is exactly what scholars are doing with two David statues by Donatello. Both of these statues, the Prophet David (Fig. 1) and the marble David (Fig. 2) have very little primary source documentation regarding exactly when they were carved or where they were first placed. Earlier scholars believed the marble David was carved for a buttress of the Florence Cathedral, while
Forsythe 2 recent scholars now argue that the marble David was carved for the Palazzo della Signoria and the Prophet David statue was the one made for the buttress. Donatello’s marble David was made as a separate commission for the Palazzo della Signoria because of its style, base shape, and attention to detail.
Influences on Donatello’s Style Donatello’s early career sees him working with two other great artists of the time—Filippo Brunelleschi and Lorenzo Ghiberti. Working with and learning from both of these men had the greatest influence on Donatello’s style. While there is little documentation providing exact details about Donatello’s training, his close friendship with Brunelleschi and time spent working for Ghiberti no doubt had an impact on his style. In his book Donatello: Sculptor John Pope-Hennessy discusses Donatello’s early life and career. Donatello, from the very beginning, was closely associated with Brunelleschi, the architect and sculptor, and like Brunelleschi he seems to have been trained as a metal worker (13). Donatello may have honed his metal working skills and formed a lifelong friendship while working as an apprentice to Brunelleschi when he was working on the silver altar of St. James in the Cathedral at Pistoia (13). After the Opera del Duomo awarded the commission for the Baptistery’s bronze doors to Ghiberti in 1402, Brunelleschi decided to go to Rome for several years and took sixteen year-old Donatello with him (14). Vasari tells us that Brunelleschi went to study architecture while Donatello wanted to study sculpture. Upon their arrival in Rome, the pair immediately went to work measuring ground plans and details of cornices. They studied and took dimensions of everything from Rome to Campagna (Vasari 72). It is from this trip that Donatello would have gained his knowledge of the ancient sculptures. During this trip he would have seen
Forsythe 3 the posturing of the statues and learned of contrapposto. This style places the body off-balance by positioning one leg in front of the other and is characteristic of ancient Roman and Greek sculptures and during the early 1400’s, would have only been found in and around Rome. Donatello’s time in Rome could not have lasted longer than a year because in 1404 Donatello’s name is on the list of assistants in Ghiberti’s workshop working on the bronze doors for the Baptistery (Pope-Hennessy 14). As an assistant to Ghiberti, Donatello would have learned how to convincingly model figures in a relief (Avery 7). Under Ghiberti’s tutelage Donatello would...