Donato di Niccolo di Betta Bardi was born in Florence around 1386 AD and died there around 1466, having a productive eighty-year life chipping away at stone, marble, and other rocks. The emotion and expressivity of his work made him the greatest of Renaissance sculptors; the artist Vasari wrote of his work, “There is a marvelous suggestion of life bursting out of the stone.”
Son of a craftsman, Donatello was educated in the home of the Martelli banking family, who happened to be patrons of the arts. In 1403 he apprenticed with the metalsmith and sculptor Lorenzo Ghiberti, helping him craft the statues of prophets for the Baptistery of the Florence Cathedral, There are accounts that Donatello and the artist Brunelleschi struck up a friendship and the two travelled south to excavate the ancient ruins around Rome. Whatever the truth of that, there is no denying that Donatello incorporated classic styles in his subsequent carvings. Over the following couple decades, he completed some of the great masterpieces of the Renaissance: the marble 'Saint George,' the colossal 'Saint John the Evangelist,' the infamous bronze nude 'David,' and the bronze relief 'Feast of Herod.'
From 1443 through 1453, Donatello kept chipping away in Padua, creating the monumental sculpted altarpiece for the Santo and the equestrian statue of the commander Gattamelata. He spent his last years in Florence, mostly on commissions for the de Medici. He completed, for instance, the haunting 'Magdalene Penitent' for the convent at Santa Maria di Cestello, intended to provide comfort and inspiration to the repentant prostitutes the convent took in. His work influenced chiselers, notably Michelangelo, for centuries … although his reputation for crafting imposing, large-than-life figures was unmatched. Donatello died of unknown causes, and his last, unfinished piece was completed by his apprentice Bertoldo di Giovanni.