Donatello and Florence

Marble relief depicting The Ascension with Christ giving the keys to St Peter, by Donatello, Florence, Italy, about 1428–30. Museum no. 7629-1861

Marble relief depicting The Ascension with Christ giving the keys to St Peter, by Donatello (about 1386–1466), Florence, Italy, about 1428–30. Museum no. 7629-1861

This subtly carved marble relief of the Ascension with Christ giving the Keys to St Peter was made by Donatello (about 1386–1466), the most innovative and important sculptor of 15th-century Italy.

It is carved using a technique known as rilievo schiacciato (literally squashed or flattened relief) that Donatello is credited with having invented. He married classical and Gothic styles to create extraordinary works that capture human emotions through dramatic gesture, body language and expression.

Donatello was born and died in Florence, but he also worked for patrons elsewhere in Italy, including Prato, Siena, Naples and notably Padua, where he spent nearly ten years of his life.The Republic of Florence was effectively ruled by the Medici, a powerful banking family, for much of this period.Donatello was a favourite of Cosimo de' Medici (1389–1464), the grandfather of Lorenzo the Magnificent.

The marble relief of the Ascension was listed in the inventory of the Medici Palace taken after Lorenzo's death in 1492, framed and hanging on the wall of his apartments.

Artistic production was flourishing in Florence at this time, with patrons vying to attract the best artists to embellish religious, civic and domestic buildings and to make devotional and domestic objects.The talented Donatello was much in demand.His powerful sculptures could be seen across the cityscape of Florence.

This film has been supported by the Bonita Trust


Objects by Donatello from the V&A's collections

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