Donatello: Sculpting the Renaissance ★★★★ Victoria & Albert Museum | Feb 11 - June 11, 2023

This first major UK exhibition of one of the Renaissance's most influential artists is an absolute must-see event. Displaying over 130 objects, with loans from Italy, Germany, France and the USA among others, this show places the sculptor in his contemporary context and foreshadows his massive influence on his successors. There are six sections beginning with Donatello’s Florentine Foundations and concluding with Homage to Donatello. From his early training as a goldsmith, through his association with Ghiberti and Masaccio and his partnership with Michelozzo we see the development of Donatello's genius in section one. Then, in the second section, Tradition and Innovation we are invited to consider his emulation of, and expansion upon, classical tropes. He contributes to the revival of the portrait bust and his shallow relief carving, or rilievo schiacciato, displays an absolutely consummate craftsmanship. The next section, Padua and Northern Italy, also confirms his innovative capacity and his extraordinary artisanship with reference to his triumphal equestrian monument. But for us, it is the charming relief panel, the Miracle of the Mule that is, perhaps, more compelling. Indeed, it is Donatello's transcendent humanity and humour that ultimately make his work so intriguing. The delightful spiritelli and whimsical Attis-Amorino in the section, Bronzes: Sacred and Secular, and the tenderness and compassion evoked in Devotion and Emotion, are the hallmarks of his genius. If we had any quibble with this show it might be that the lighting can sometimes cast some troublesome shadows, but nevertheless, this a beautifully curated exhibition. It really shouldn't be missed!

Rated: ★★★★

Reviewed by J.C.
Image: Lamentation over the Dead Christ, bronze, sculpted by Donatello, about 1455 – 1460, Italy. Museum no. 8552-1863. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

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