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Florentine Reunion: The New Donatello Exhibition

March 18, 2022
A Renaissance bronze relief executed by Donatello showing the head of John the Baptist presented to King Herod

Donatello’s Feast of Herod (photo: Matthias Kabel)

Two of Florence’s major cultural institutions will be joining forces to put on an exhibition dedicated to one of the city’s greatest artistic icons. Between March 19th and July 30th, the Palazzo Strozzi and the Museo Bargello will assemble around one hundred thirty works to show the story and the lasting legacy of the master sculptor Donatello. According to curators, it will be the first major retrospective on Donatello in more than forty years.

Donatello is often considered the first great master of the Renaissance. He was part of a generation of Florentine sculptors, like Filippo Brunelleschi and Lorenzo Ghiberti, who diligently studied classical sculpture to create their works. While Donatello was only one of many, people remember his name for a good reason. His innovations allowed him to create David, the first free-standing nude sculpture since antiquity. With his statue of Gattamelata, he also revived the concept of the commemorative equestrian statue, not popularly executed in Europe in over a millennium. Though Florentine by birth, his work can be found all over Italy, from Florence to Rome to Padua to Siena to Venice.

The exhibition will also feature works by his contemporaries, like Filippo Brunelleschi, as well as his successors, like Michelangelo, Raphael, and Giovanni Bellini. About fifty other art institutions, like the Louvre, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Vienna’s Kunsthistorisches Museum, are loaning some of their works for the exhibition. However, thanks to the Strozzi-Bargello partnership, museum visitors will learn about some of Donatello’s bronze works that have not left their original installations. The font at Siena Cathedral’s baptistry features several works by Donatello, including two small bronze statues and a bronze panel showing the Feast of Herod. These works have never been removed from the baptistry since they were installed in the 1420s, but will be carefully taken out of their churches for display in Florence. The exhibition will also feature a set of bronze doors that Donatello made for the sacristy of the Basilica of San Lorenzo in Florence. All the bronze works are currently undergoing cleaning and restoration in Florence before the exhibition begins.

The exhibition’s curator, Francesco Caglioti, hopes that the Museo Bargello will also agree to loan Donatello’s David to the event, which would undoubtedly eclipse all the other assembled works. Except for the sacristy doors and the Siena baptistry bronzes, the exhibit’s contents will travel to the Staatliche Museum in Berlin in September before continuing to London’s Victoria & Albert Museum.