How to soak up the Italian Renaissance, second time around

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With a major exhibition taking place in it Q&A starting next month, Renaissance Art is getting, well, a bit of a renaissance (“scuse the pun”) for contemporary audiences.

Donatello: Sculpture of the Renaissance (11 February – 11 June 2023) will be the UK’s first major exhibition to explore the exceptional talents of the Renaissance master, Donatello. It offers a fresh look at the artist and his impact on both the cultural and artistic development of this crucial time in art history. With many works never seen 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 at the forefront of a revolution in early renaissance sculpture practice. Working in the full range of sculptural materials and techniques, including marble, bronze, wood, terracotta and stucco, he contributed to major commissions from church and state; was a confidant of the Medici family and their circle in Florence, and was much sought after in other Italian cities.

Accompanying the exhibition is a lavish coffee table book – Donatello: Sculpture of the Renaissance – edited by Peta Motture, chief curator of the exhibition Donatello: Sculpture of the Renaissance.

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

“Donatello was a driving force behind the Italian Renaissance and an inspiration to artists throughout the ages,” says Peta Motture. “The exceptional opportunity to work with our partners in Florence and Berlin, together with the generosity of all the donors, has enabled the V&A to provide a remarkable insight into the artist’s training, relationships and legacy. Bringing together objects and stories never before seen in the UK, the exhibition provides a unique moment to experience, enjoy and – for those less familiar – Donatello’s amazing talents and his wide-ranging influence on Renaissance and later art with his work – to discover.

The exhibition takes visitors on a tour of Italy, starting from Florence, where Donatello made his first sculptures in marble for the Opera del Duomo, such as the David and gained experience working in wax, clay and bronze in the workshop of Lorenzo Ghiberti, 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, travelers can take their own deep dive with Cox and Kingsart and culture tour: Ravenna: Mosaics & Marble. The three-night tour reveals Ravenna’s glittering past with experts Rowena Loverance of Dr. Sally Dormer.

Lovers of Renaissance art can also visit the Abercrombie & Kent Philanthropy (AKP) project in Florence and see firsthand how restorers bring back to life Renaissance artworks that would otherwise have been lost forever.

“A global effort is underway to help restore the monuments that make up Florence’s cultural heritage and are considered world treasures,” says AKP. “And we have actively participated in this global effort over the past few years. Currently our support goes to the chapel of the Madonna of Giambologna, an artistic jewel of the Renaissance period in Santissima Annunziata (Church of the Annunciation). This church is considered one of the most visited churches in Florence.”

Visitors can also venture off the beaten track to the 13th-century Basilica of Santissima Annunziata, where another ambitious restoration project is being sponsored by Abercrombie & Kent Philanthropy. Accompanied by a member of the small team of on-site art restorers, visit the Giambologna Chapel, one of the basilica’s many side chapels, and see for yourself how restorers work on Renaissance treasures.

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