More about Madonna of the Clouds

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The thing about Donatello is that he is primarily known for his sculptures and is considered one of the best sculptors of the renaissance, only second to Michelangelo.

And that is a hard, hard second. If you wanna see how much Donatello play’s second fiddle to ol’ Mikey you only need to compare their Davids. Like I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that you have seen Michaelangelo’s David, however I would say that there is only a fifty-fifty chance that you would recognize Donatello’s David.

It's for this reason that it is important to pay attention to Donatello’s reliefs, because while they are not nearly as popular as his sculptures, they are one of the places where his genius distinguishes itself from Michelangelo’s. Moreover, they played a key role in both his education and in his career.

Donatello was educated under Lorenzo Ghiberti who was a gold smith and the creator of the bronze doors of the Florence Baptistry, which might be some of the most famous reliefs of all time. Donatello would have been under Ghiberti’s tutelage while he was making these and would likely have assisted in their construction.

When Donatello set out on his own, his The Feast of Herod became one of the pieces that distinguished him from his peers (this work would eventually sit inside the Florence Baptistry). Then, years later, he would drastically innovate the relief medium with works like this. Madonna of the Clouds is unique because it is nearly flat. At the time most reliefs had a lot of depth with the artists cutting deep into the stone and essentially carving statues out of a wall. Here the depth is all illusory, and because of this restraint, he is able to do things like create the shadow halo that sits around Mary’s head. It's really like he is painting with the stone.

In comparison, Michelangelo also made a low relief, one that is also of a Madonna. However while he did know a lot about painting and working in flat medium, his relief is not nearly as restrained as Donatello’s. The man might be by far more famous, but he didn’t have everything. Plus in the end, Donatello is a much cooler ninja turtle, so who is the real winner here?