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The Renaissance – Donatello and diNiccolodiBettoBardi

by Zach Gasior

Donatello is the brains of the turtle team, always coming up with new gadgets to help his brothers, and working hard to be their link to the human world in the 21st century.  However, more than 600 years earlier, another Donatello walked the Earth.  Donatello diNiccolodiBettoBardi was born in Florence, Italy during the earliest days of the Renaissance movement (1386-1466).  He was a well-known sculptor, whose work dealt with bas-relief – a type of sculpture that greatly incorporated the idea of perspectival illusionism (art that appears to exist in the same plane of existence as the viewer).

While the year of his birth is not quite certain, Donatello grew up in the late 14th century, educated by the Martelli family and received artistic training while working for a goldsmith’s shop and in the studio of Lorenzo Ghiberti.  In the early 15th century, Donatello moved to Rome, where he studied further with Filippo Brunelleschi.  Together, the two men created some of the decisive works of the Renaissance, with Brunelleschi’s buildings and Donatello’s sculptures widely believed to have influenced the development of the movement and the artists that came after.

Donatello St. MarkThe majority of Donatello’s greatest works were commissioned and displayed in Florence, including “St. Mark”, “St. George Tabernacle”, “David”, and “Magdalene Penitent”.  Donatello returned to live in Florence in 1453, where he worked on his last sculptures (including models for the gates of Duomo, which are now lost to history) before passing away in 1466 and being buried in the Basilica of San Lorenzo in his home city.

The work of Donatello diNiccolodiBettoBardi really got the Renaissance movement off the ground.  Since the period began in the 14th century (near or not too long before Donatello’s birth), his work was completed at the beginning of it all, and therefore all the artists and thinkers who came after were able to see and be influenced by his creations.  He wasn’t even a contemporary or peer of Leonardo da Vinci, with the latter being alive for only about 14 years before Donatello’s passing.  But his accomplishments would have been known throughout Italy, and even the great mind of da Vinci would have been influenced by what he accomplished.

Like Leonardo, there really seems to be no deep reason why the turtle Donatello was named for that particular Renaissance artist.  The only comparison between the two would be that they are great with their hands.  Whereas the sculptor created great statues and monuments, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle builds devices and robots and gadgets.  Both types of building require a bright mind and expertise, so the two of them are great with their hands.  Unfortunately, the similarities seem to stop there.  There was no indication that Renaissance Donatello had an exceptional intellect (not like Leonardo da Vinci), nor any indication that he thought outside of the proverbial box with the things he tried to accomplish (also unlike da Vinci).  Overall, there seems to be no significant connection between the turtle Donatello and his namesake.

The common thread between Renaissance artist and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle seems to be that the naming of each was done without trying to make too many connections between personalities and traits.  Both Leonardo and Donatello seem to be only somewhat related to the artists they are named for, with each probably fitting better with someone else.  This says a lot about the potential connection (or lack thereof) between the remaining two turtles, Raphael and Michelangelo, and their Renaissance artists.  But, there is still a connection, and sometimes that’s all that’s necessary.  The Donatellos have their building ability in common, giving the Renaissance artist’s mastery of sculpture new life in the present day.  While it may be metal and computer parts instead of clay and marble, the ninja Donatello still keeps that bright tradition of sculpture alive, and his artist would be proud.


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