How To Soak Up The Italian Renaissance, The Second Time Around

With a major exhibition taking place at the V&A from next month, Renaissance Art is being given, well, a bit of a renaissance (‘scuse the pun) for a modern-day audience.

Donatello: Sculpting the Renaissance (11 February – 11 June 2023) will be the first major UK exhibition to explore the exceptional talents of the Renaissance master, Donatello. It will offer a fresh vision of the artist and his impact on both the cultural and artistic development of this crucial time in the history of art. Featuring many works that have never been on display in the UK, the exhibition will explore the artist’s innovations, collaborations and inspirations within the context of 15th-century Italy.

Arguably the greatest sculptor of all time, Donatello (c.1386-1466) was in the vanguard of a revolution in sculptural practice in the early Renaissance. Working in the full range of sculptural materials and techniques, including marble, bronze, wood, terracotta and stucco, he contributed to major commissions of church and state; was an intimate of the Medici family and their circle in Florence, and was highly sought after in other Italian cities.

To coincide with the exhibition is a sumptuous coffee-table book – Donatello: Sculpting the Renaissance – edited by Peta Motture, exhibition lead curator of Donatello: Sculpting the Renaissance.

The book also explores Donatello’s extraordinary creativity within the vibrant artistic and cultural context of 15th-century Italy, surveying his early connection with goldsmiths’ work and the collaborative nature of his workshop and processes. It also reflects on Donatello’s legacy, exploring how his sculpture inspired subsequent generations in the later Renaissance and beyond.

“Donatello was a driving force behind the Italian Renaissance and an inspiration to artists across the centuries,” comments Peta Motture. “The exceptional opportunity to collaborate with our partners in Florence and Berlin, together with the generosity of all lenders, has made it possible for the V&A to present a remarkable insight into the artist’s training, relationships and legacy. Bringing together objects and narratives never seen before in the UK, the exhibition provides a unique moment to experience, enjoy and – for those less familiar with his work – discover Donatello’s astonishing talents and his wide-ranging impact on Renaissance and later art.”

The exhibition takes visitors on a tour across Italy, from Florence, where Donatello produced his first sculptures in marble for the Opera del Duomo, such as the David and gained experience of working in wax, clay and bronze in Lorenzo Ghiberti’s workshop, to Padua and Northern Italy, where the artist spent 10 years (1443-54).

To celebrate the major exhibition and celebration of the artist’s life, travellers can embark on their own deep-dive with Cox and Kings’ arts and culture tour: Ravenna: Mosaics & Marble. The three-night tour uncovers Ravenna’s glittering past with experts Rowena Loverance or Dr Sally Dormer.

Alternatively, lovers of Renaissance art can visit the Abercrombie & Kent Philanthropy (AKP) project in Florence and observe first-hand how restorers bring Renaissance artworks, which might otherwise be lost forever, back to life.

“There is a global effort underway to help restore the monuments that are the cultural heritage of Florence and are regarded as world treasures,” says AKP. “And we have been an active part of this global effort for the past several years. Currently, our support is directed to The Chapel of the Madonna of Giambologna, an artistic gem of the Renaissance period in Santissima Annunziata (Church of the Annunciation). This church is considered one of the top must-see churches in Florence.”

Visitors can also go off the beaten path to the 13th-century Basilica of Santissima Annunziata, where there is another ambitious restoration project sponsored by Abercrombie & Kent Philanthropy. Accompanied by a member of the small, on-site team of art restorers, you can visit the Giambologna Chapel, one of the Basilica’s many side chapels and observe first-hand how restorers are working on Renaissance treasures.

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