First Major Donatello Exhibition in the UK to Open This Weekend in London

Thu, 02/09/2023 - 07:01
Donatello, San Rossore, gilt bronze, Pisa
Donatello, San Rossore, gilt bronze, from Pisa / Photo: Ministero della Cultura - Regional Directorate of Museums of Tuscany, Florence

The first-ever large-scale exhibition to offer British audiences a peek inside the world of Italian Renaissance master Donatello will open on February 11 at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. 

Running through the second week of June 2023, Donatello: Sculpting the Renaissance showcases a wide range of work by the 15th-century Florentine master, much of which has never previously been displayed in the United Kingdom.

Donatello: Sculpting the Renaissance

Donatello, Attis-Amorino, bronze
Attis-Amorino, bronze, courtesy of Museo Nazionale del Bargello and the Ministero della Cultura / Photo: Bruno Bruchi

The show is the final installment in a high-profile, international trilogy of Donatello exhibitions, held across Palazzo Strozzi and the Bargello Museum in Florence (from March to June 2022), the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (September 2022 to January 2023), and now the Victoria & Albert Museum. Though many of the works featured in all three exhibitions, the shows were individually curated and shed light on different themes.

Donatello: Sculpting the Renaissance will focus on the master’s artistic innovations and partnerships, along with his sources of inspiration. Advance promotion of the show has suggested it will firmly anchor viewers in the context of 15th-century Italy, while also exploring Donatello’s longer-term impact, and his role in a crucial period of cultural and artistic awakening. In addition to reconstructing Donatello's own career, the exhibition considers connections to the work of his colleagues, close followers and rivals. Thematic sections include Donatello’s Florentine Foundations; Tradition and Innovation (which highlights the artist’s reinterpretation of themes from antiquity); Bronzes: Sacred and Secular; Padua and Northern Italy (where Donatello spent a decade); Devotion and Emotion; and Homage to Donatello (which focuses on his influence on future generations). 

Standout works on display include Donatello’s early marble David and bronze Attis-Amorino, both on loan from the Museo Nazionale del Bargello in Florence. Other treasures include a reliquary bust of San Rossore from the Museo Nazionale di San Matteo in Pisa and bronzes from the High Altar of the Basilica of St. Anthony in Padua. The show also includes a number of objects from the V&A’s own collection — one of the most extensive holdings of Italian Renaissance sculpture outside Italy. 

For the first time, the V&A’s carved relief of the Ascension With Christ Giving the Keys to St. Peter will also be on view alongside the Madonna of the Clouds from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and Desiderio da Settignano’s Panciatichi Madonna from the Museo Nazionale del Bargello.

Who was Donatello? 

Donatello, Ascension with Christ Giving the Keys to Saint Peter
Donatello, Ascension With Christ Giving the Keys to St. Peter / Victoria & Albert Museum, London

Often called the “master of masters,” Donatello (born Donato di Niccolò di Betto Bardi in Florence in 1386) is considered one of the most important sculptors of the Renaissance era, if not all time. Credited with revolutionizing the sculptural practice, Donatello used a full range of materials and innovative techniques in marble, stone, bronze, wood, terracotta and stucco. 

In his early years, he worked as an assistant in the workshop of Lorenzo Ghiberti, whose doors on the baptistery of the Duomo are considered one of the greatest masterpieces of Italian art in the Quattrocento (the 15th century). It was in Ghiberti’s studio that young Donatello honed his skills in wax, clay and bronze, producing sculptures for the Opera del Duomo.

Peta Motture, lead curator of Donatello: Sculpting the Renaissance, said in a statement, “Donatello was a driving force behind the Italian Renaissance and an inspiration to artists across the centuries. The exceptional opportunity to collaborate with our partners in Florence and Berlin, together with the generosity of all lenders, has made it possible for the V&A to present a remarkable insight into the artist’s training, relationships and legacy. Bringing together objects and narratives never seen before in the UK, the exhibition provides a unique moment to experience, enjoy and — for those less familiar with his work — discover Donatello’s astonishing talents and his wide-ranging impact on Renaissance and later art.” 

If you go

Donatello: Sculpting the Renaissance
February 11-June 11, 2023
Victoria & Albert Museum, Sainsbury Gallery, South Kensington
Cromwell Road, London, England
Open: 10am to 5.45pm daily; until 10pm on Fridays

Adults: £20 (about €23)
Students, those under 26 and people with disabilities: £13 (about €15)
Under 12: Free