Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Searching for Donatello

donatello and his world cover donatello cover

Donatello and His World: Sculpture of the Italian Renaissance by Joachim Poeschke*

Donatello by Charles Avery*

A few weeks months ago, I finally resolved on a theme for my Art History Challenge--works of art that deeply moved me.  While I've viewed a fair number of artworks in my time, some of them more memorable than others, only a few have seemed to come alive and change the way I look at art, or the way I look at myself.  One of those pieces is Mary Magdalene by Donatello.  Check out the video for a good idea what the Mary Magdalene looks like:

This sculpture is ahmazing.  It's hard to describe how much like encountering a living person seeing it is.  It's like when you're walking down the street and there's a pile of trash on the side, but then all of a sudden the pile shifts and you realize you're looking at a human being, not a bunch of rags at all.  And then you lock eyes with the person and you feel slightly ashamed for thinking they were a pile of trash, and more than a little thrown, and you don't want to look away.

Yeah, that's exactly what seeing this statue for the first time was like for me.  In fact, I'm half-convinced Donatello performed some evil voodoo and there's a real woman trapped inside the Mary Magdalene somehow, trying to get out.

I don't have a lot of database resources at my local library, so I decided to go with some good ol' books to find out more about Donatello and the Mary Magdalene.  Little did I know how scant the scholarship is on Donatello!  Considering how famous he is, you'd think there would be A LOT more out there about him, but no.

First I started with Donatello and His World by Joachim Poeschke.  This is actually a fairly good introduction to Italian Renaissance Art for those that don't know anything about it, but the information about Donatello was merely cursory.  I didn't find out much about the Mary Magdalene beyond that fact that its origins are very mysterious (gawd, I hope I never leave tantalizing clues like that in my book without explanation, should I ever write one--so frustrating!).

So I decided to go with a promising-sounding biography of Donatello next (I also picked up another book in between, but I hated it and have already erased it from my mind), this one by Charles Avery.  This book was suuuuper-short.  Again, Donatello is one of the main figures of the Renaissance, so why am I having all this trouble finding books that go into detail about him???  I ask you.  Beyond that, I enjoyed learning gossipy things about the artist, like that he was the first bohemian and refused to dress nice.  That was all scrunched up in the beginning.  The rest of the book was dry descriptions along the lines of, "Donatello worked in X workshop and created Y artwork for such-and-such patron using Z technique."  LIKE ZOMG kill me now.  I'm all for facts, but writing like this gives art history a bad name.  What happened to writing with passion about art that you loved and getting people excited about it? 

Which leads me to another personal pet peeve of mine: making the Italian Renaissance seem as boring as possible.  I don't know how these guys do it, because it is a challenge to take all the interesting, combative, passionate personalities all scrunched into Rome and Florence at the same time and make it so dull anyone with half a brain wants to move IMMEDIATELY on to Bosch and Breughal, but somehow they do it!  I mean, this stuff is like reality TV, fifteenth-century style, and for some reason the major Renaissance historians of the last generation feel this need to make it as academic and uninteresting as possible.

Anywayyyy, as far as the Mary Magdalene was concerned, it was only mentioned in conjunction with another, earlier statue, as an example that Donatello's style isn't easily segregated into timely progressions.  KTHNX.

As you tell, I'm feeling a little frustrated with my quest for knowledge at this point, but I will perservere!  Although not with Donatello--him, I've given up on.

Have you seen the Mary Magdalene?  What did you think of it?

*These are Amazon Associate links & I got both of these books at the library.

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