Donatello’s marble statue of David stands life-sized with a confident but clearly delicate and youthful face that’s so eye-catching it’s easy to miss the head of Goliath that rests at his feet. It marks the entrance to the V&A’s blockbuster exhibition on the sculptor and it’s a complete contrast to the museum’s cast of Michelangelo’s David that’s colossal and looks older, the latter being displayed in the museum’s cast courts. Both are comparably brilliant sculptures and it’s a real treat to be able to see both in the same museum thanks to V&A’s latest exhibition on the sculptor Donatello.
It’s not the only stunning sculpture in this show, others include a large head of God the Father complete with a deeply textured beard by Donatello’s peer Beltramino de Zuttis, and a scale bronze of a crucified Christ by Donatello where there’s fantastic detailing on the folds and holes in his tattered clothing.
Donatello was constantly innovating and he perfected the shallow relief technique of rilievo schiacciato, producing some smaller scale works that pull you in alongside the larger pieces. The Virgin, with the dead Christ, is often shown as serene and dignified but in Donatello’s hands he produced a depiction where the full agony of grief is evident on her face in a small-scale relief work, and if her eyes were to suddenly start shedding tears it would feel fitting.
Given his changing styles and the fact he inspired so many other sculptors, it does result in an exhibition where only around one third of the works on show are attributed to Donatello himself – with others by peers, followers and unknown sculptors from his time. ‘Donatello and his circle’ would have been a more accurate title for this exhibition, though thankfully that doesn’t detract from the quality of the sculpture on show with visually striking works of St. George slaying a dragon by Domenico di Paris and of St. Maurelius by Niccolo Baroncelli, flanking Donatello’s Christ.
It’s not all sculpture, including some paintings and an impressive copper, silver and gold processional cross – but it’s the sculpture that we’re here for and on that front no sculpture fan will be disappointed with the spectacular artworks in this show.
Donatello: Sculpting the Renaissance at V&A. 11 February - 11 June. £20.
|What||Donatello exhibition at the V&A review|
|Where||V&A, South Kensington, Cromwell Road, London, SW7 2RL | MAP|
11 Feb 23 – 11 Jun 23, 10:00 AM – 5:00 PM