Donatello’s St. Mark

Donatello St. Mark
Donatello, St. Mark, c. 1411-13, marble, Orsanmichele, Florence

Eager to move out of the dark ages that lasted for nearly 900 years, Florence was starting its path to give birth to the first renaissance. Artist were reviving and adapting greek and roman understanding of art and sculptures many centuries before (classical revival) and exploring new boundaries of beauty. The first and prime example for early renaissance statues is Donatello’s marble sculpture of St. Mark.

Completed on the exterior of the Orsanmichele, the statue of St. Mark stands 93 inch (236 cm) tall, overlooking the people at the heart of Venice. St. Mark is one of many new movements in Florence where art is commissioned by guilds rather than churches. In this case, the marble statue is carved as standing on a linen pillow which indicates that St. Mark was commissioned by the linen weavers’ guild.

There are many factors on why Donatello’s St. Mark is very important and different than other commissioned statues at the time. Most noted is the classical revival of the contrapposto stance which the greeks and romans have applied before. The contrapposto translates loosely from the Italian word, “contrasted” or “opposed” is a naturalistic way of portraying the human from in relaxed elements that gives the figure an easy, natural gracefulness.

Donatello_Mark S
Donatello’s St. Mark has applied two primary elements to create the contrapposto stance. First is the slight curve to the body by shifting St. Mark’s hip to the right and the bent forward left knee. In contrast to the next element, Donatello uses strong vertical lines of the columns that parallel St. Mark’s shoulders and his cloth falling from the right hip downwards. This creates an illusion of the statue to have weight and flow which is eye catching compared to other works during the early 15th century.

 

In addition to the masterful understanding of the contrapposto, Donatello’s skills exceeds in the head/facial details and understanding of perspective of the viewers. St. Mark’s head is very disproportionate to the rest the body. This was intentional because Donatello understood that the viewers will have to look up to view his statue. From this perspective, the viewers would see more of the detailed and poised face of St. Mark while appreciating the birth of the italian renaissance to come.

Quick Notes:

  • Prime example of early renaissance and classical revival using elements of the contrapposto.
  • Contrapposto = a naturalistic way of portraying the human from in relaxed elements that gives the figure an easy, natural gracefulness.
  • 2 main elements:
    • Slight curve to the body by shifting St. Mark’s hip to the right and the bent forward left knee.
    • Strong vertical lines of the columns that parallel St. Mark’s shoulders and cloth falling from the right hip downwards.
  • Intentionally makes big head so viewers looking up towards St. Mark can see more detailed face.

 

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