Donatello created the Feast of Herod in 1427. It is a very early example of Donatello's sculptures and his very first bronze relief. Over time, artists have noted the use of Donatello's use of perspective in the sculpture. The relief sculpture measures 60cm x 60cm.
The relief sculpture shows the way in which John the Baptist was beheaded after his head was requested on a platter by Salome, who was Herod's daughter. The sculpture shows John the Baptist's executioner presenting his head to Herod. Herod reacts in shock.
The Commissioning of The Feast of Herod
It was in 1416 that Lorenzo Ghiberti was asked to work as a designer for a new baptismal font by the officials of Siena Cathedral - Opera del Duomo. The original plans depicted six relief sculptures which were to be fixed to the six sides of the font.
These were to be completed by two local artists and Ghiberti. The feast of Herod by Donatello was commissioned to replace one of the six pieces of art work that was originally supposed to be done by one of the local artists. The artist was not completing the work commissioned on time and so he was replaced. Donatello completed the work in his workshop in Florence before it was transported to Siena Cathedral.
Description of the Work
The scene depicted in the work shows several elements common to the Baptist cycle - another name for the important events in John the Baptist's life. Donatello brings together elements from several other important works such as Pisano's reliefs on the Florence Baptistry, as well as Salome's dance and the beheading of John the Baptist.
He brings these things together using narrative art that shows several scenes of a story within a single framed work. This helps to depict the story of the beheading of St John without having to show the beheading explicitly.
One of the great things about Donatello's work that is different to others is the way in which he shows the emotional response of the individuals within it, such as Herod's response.
The use of Linear Perspective
Linear perspective is brought to the scene, the help the viewer to focus on important characters and points in the work. Donatello was very much inspired by other artists using a linear perspective. At the time of the work this was fairly uncommon. However, linear perspective was something that became a common, important feature in art created during the Italian Renaissance.
Linear perspective involves representing light that moves through a pretend rectangle, known as the plane of the painting. This moves through to the eye of the viewer. It is as if a viewer is looking at a window and painting what can be seen on the window pane.
If the object is viewed from the exact spot that the windowpane is painted, the image that had been painted would be exactly the same as what was seen though the window that was was unpainted. The use of linear perspective is often described as being a technique that created the mathematics of art.
The Use of High and Low Relief
This is an another method used by Donatello to discuss the space in the depicted scene. Donatello uses rilievo schiacciato, or shallow relief which he had used earlier in his image St George Predella. This was a work that was commissioned for the Church of Orsanmichele in Florence.
Donatello managed to use schiacciato, or in english shallow relief to create greater depth in his fantastic work. It is actually the contrast between high and low relief that truly leads to the depth found in his work. This depth gives a great sense of realism to the viewer. The figures move into the viewers area, and helps the viewer to imagine their presence in the scene.
The Feast of Herod by Donatello can still be viewed to this day in the wonderful cathedral in Siena. This is a very fitting location for the world to see this magnificent piece of pre-renaissance art. Donatello's work is appreciated by many hundreds of visitors everyday. The artists techniques allow all who view it to appreciate the importance of the event in religious history. It also allows the viewer to experience the emotion of the situation.