Donatello, Saint Mark

Donatello, Saint Mark


(jazzy music) Male: We’re on the second floor of Orsanmichele and here,
one after the other, are all the monumental sculptures that had once filled the niches outside. Female: It’s important to remember that Orsanmichele is in many
ways the place that the Renaissance began in Florence. It began in this space that had both a secular function as a granary but also a spiritual function. Male: It’s also a church. Female: These were sculptures commissioned by the guilds and so it makes sense that these first Renaissance sculptures would be commissioned not by a church, but by guilds, by these
secular organizations. Male: Okay, so let’s
take one as an example. One of the important guilds in the city were the linen workers. We’re standing in front of St. Mark, which is this monumental
sculpture by Donatello. We know it’s for the linen workers because he is standing on a pillow presumably made of linen. Female: Right. If we
think about him outside in that niche and imagine walking by him, you could almost imagine this way that you would relate to him; that you could engage with him right on the streets of Florence, this sense of civic pride of
bringing beauty to the city. Male: There really is a sense of immediacy here. This is Donatello’s brilliance. Here we have a figure
that is, first of all, reviving the Classical
in really important ways. This is a figure that is an incredible early expression of contrapposto that hasn’t been seen with this kind of understanding for 1,000 years. Female: If we look at so
many of the other figures that were created for Orsanmichele, they still have that
Gothic sway to the hips. What Donatello give us instead is something that looks very much like an ancient Roman sculpture. Male: Look, for instance, at the hips that push to his right. Over the engaged leg, you have the cloth falling in perfect unbroken lines, almost as if that’s the
floating of a Classical column. It’s on the other side that you can see the knee breaking the cloth. You can really get a sense,
even though it’s under this heavy drapery, you still understand the movement of the body,
the turn of the spine, the turn of the hips,
the axis of the knees. Female: Donatello’s
borrowing this directly from ancient Greek and Roman sculpture. There’s no other place he
could have goten this from. The figure, because of the contrapposto, really looks alive. He looks like he can truly walk. His feet are firmly planted on the ground. The sense that the weight is shifting gives the sense that he
could walk at any second. We have an idea of sculpture beginning to be separate from the architecture, even though he was in a niche and he was intended for the architecture. The contrapposto, the sense of movement, gives us a sense of his autonomy from the architecture. Male: But it’s also the
authenticity of his experience. So it’s a revival of the Classical, not only in terms of the
mechanics of the body, but also in terms of the
experience of the individual. You said a moment ago we would walk down the street and see this figure in a niche. There would be an immediate
kind of relationship. Yes, that’s true, but at the same time he’s seeing further. He’s also seeing past us. Female: Right. It’s this bringing together of the spiritual and the
human so close at this moment in the early 15th century in Florence. Male: Look at the face. There’s a kind of intelligence, there’s a kind of internal focus, there’s a kind of awareness that is just piercing. He’s thinking, he’s reflecting on the Gospels that he
holds so easily at his side and perhaps he’s about
to speak them to us. There is this way in which our eyes are drawn up through the plainer quality of the drapery to the
more focused handling of the stone near the
beard, near his eyes, look at that furrowed brow, so that he is somebody
that we can understand and approach in some real way. Female: You know, the sculptures like the ones by Ghiberti that are more in that high Gothic style, the
face is often more plain and less individualized, and our focus goes on those decorative
forms in the drapery. Male: It’s distracted, in a sense. Female: Exactly, so we don’t have that human to human connection
that we’re getting here. Here, instead of focusing on the drapery, although the drapery is fabulous, we look directly at the face and we see the furrowed brow, the eyes that gaze out, the beard that animates his face and makes it seem even more thoughtful, his receding hairline. Then we look down at his hands and we can see that Donatello has clearly been thinking about human anatomy. Those are not just
generalized shapes for hands but a sense of bone and muscle and veins. Then down to the feet firmly
planted on the ground. When the Florentines looked up at St. Mark as they walked, they looked up at him and saw a figure that … Male: It ennobled. Female: That ennobled them. They looked at St. Mark
and could have a sense of their own profound
dignity as human beings, as Florentines in the early 15th century. In a way, St. Mark is a mirror. Male: Isn’t that exactly what this notion of civic pride that was
so tied in to 15th century Florence was really about? This notion that we can
rise to our own ideals. Female: We can be like the ancient Romans and be virtuous and … Male: Shake off the
corruption of the Medieval and in a sense return to the greatest that man had once known. (jazzy music)

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