Equestrian Statue of Gattamelata Donatello Buy Art Prints Now
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Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on October 14, 2023
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Donatello's Equestrian Statue of Gattamelata continues the artist's use of bronze, in which the majority of his most famous sculptures were made.

The statue depicts Erasmo da Narni, a military leader who was nicknamed Gattamelata. This was one of Donatello's biggest undertakings, with the final piece produced at life size. It is also believed to be the first equestrian sculpture during the early Renaissance. Artist Donatello used clear elements of symbolism in order to portray this military figure in the right light. Strength and confidence is projected from the way in which he saddles the impressive horse. His sword is also large and threatening. Some artists would deliberately make the horse smaller in order to boost the size of the main figure, but Donatello here chooses a more accurate sizing, giving an air of strength through his facial features and other more subtle touches.

The success of this commission ensured that several more military pieces would appear in later generations. During this period of European history there was continual turmoil and the fate of individual countries or states was constantly challenged. Successful commanders were therefore treated as heroes and memorised similarly. They would tend to depict each figure when at their most powerful and impressive, politically and physically. In avoiding the usual methods of depicting strength in a portrait figure, Donatello is essentially saying that we as ourselves can be awe inspiring on our own. He felt there was no need to embelish or exagerate in order to promote the character of the individual. Gattamelata would look comfortable in himself, having risen through the ranks of the military, never having been gifted anything such as a monarch might be.

The artist carefully planned the overall display and more elements would be added before the sculpture was finally unveilied. A two-sided relief design was added below the main statue, and then a large column would sit below them both, lifting Donatello's design high into the sky. It was placed outdoors, and could be seen by anyone in the city. Over the time, the city of Padua has collated an impressive selection of cultural gems, with this Equestrian Statue of Gattamelata continuing to be seen as one of the biggest highlights. Scores of tourists flock to the city every year in order to see this Donatello masterpiece, as well as a series of Giotto frescoes which are hosted in a chapel elsewhere in the city. Its proximity to Venice also enables international visitors to fit in a wealth of culture without too much diffculty, encapsulating the best that the North East of Italy has to offer.

Table of Contents

  1. Who Commissioned the Statue?
  2. Description of Donatello's Equestrian Statue of Gattamelata
  3. What is the Story behind this sculpture?
  4. What Techniques were used to Produce this Sculpture?
  5. What Style of Sculptor was Donatello?
  6. What other Famous Sculptures did Donatello Produce?
  7. Who else featured horses within art?
  8. Where can Donatello's Equestrian Statue of Gattamelata be Found Today?
  9. What other Artistic Treasures can be found in Padua?
  10. Large Image of the Statue

Who Commissioned the Statue?

The monument was commissioned by the Republic of Venice as a memorial to their exceptional former General Commander who had led their troops with great honour and dignity. It remains in its original location in the Piazza del Santo in Padua, Italy. The soldier passed away in 1443, with this stunning memorial being completed in 1453. At that point his influence and legacy were still particularly strong and this sculpture helped that to continue for many generations to come within Padua and more widely the Venice Republic. Many artists captured equestrian scenes such as this during the Renaissance and Baroque periods, both as sculptures and oil paintings. Donatello was a versatile sculptor who was able to adapt to different commissions, and this enabled him to retain a high level across his career as well as being able to accept most opportunities that came his way.

Description of Donatello's Equestrian Statue of Gattamelata

Erasmo da Narni, or Gattamelata, sits upon his horse within this bronze sculpture. He looks off into the distance whilst striking a strong, confident expression. He is portrayed more as a human than previous sculptures would have done, though with a strength of character and desire to observe and protect the people of Venice, which at that time was a powerful kingdom. The same emotions are delivered by his horse, and the two seem very much at ease in each other's company. The horse raises one leg and balances its hoof on an orb, which represents miliary strength. It is also worth noting that although the figure was in his seventies by the time of his death, the artist chose deliberately to portray him in a more youthful and energetic time in his life in order to best serve his legacy. The sculptor is likely to have researched Gattamelata's life as well as equestrian monuments from the past prior to commencing work on this commission.

What is the Story behind this sculpture?

Erasmo of Narni died in 1443 after serving the Republic of Venice with great honour. Although born in Umbria, the Condottiero would pass away in Padua. It was decided that a statue within Padua was needed to commemorate his contribution. He served initially under Braccio da Montone, in defence of the Papal States and was involved in a number of successful conquests, including in the likes of Todi, Rieti, Narni, Terni and Spoleto. He grew tired of the region's treatment of him and his men, and so switched allegiance to the Republic of Venice. He was then involved in a number of losses and gains as fighting continued across Italy. He was injured in service whilst in his early seventies and died fairly soon afterwards. He lived a controversial life, both because of his betrayal of the Papal States but also the significant losses and gains made during his term as Condottiero. which brought him in for considerable praise and criticism.

What Techniques were used to Produce this Sculpture?

Donatello was an exceptional gifted sculptor who would stretch his talents across multiple materials. Whilst others would specialise in a particular medium, he would master the likes of marble, bronze, terracotta clay and even wood. Donatello's Equestrian Statue of Gattamelata was made from bronze using a technique which is generally known as the lost wax method. This technique involves the metal of choice is turned to liquid before being poured into a mold, which itself was formed from an earlier wax model. The wax naturally melts and drains away over time, leaving the drying sculpture behind. This particular technique was very common during the Renaissance and continued to be used for many centuries later, with many of the fundamentals of sculpture still being used today.

Donatello went away from historical styles of over-sizing a figure in order to deliver symbolic messages, and prefers to make him approximately life-size. He is raised upon his horse, with the two together on a pedestal. A stone relief with column underneath help to keep the status in its present position. This allows the sculpture to stand high in the sky, and it can be seen from afar. The relief has two different designs along its longest sides, one captures the Gattamelata's coat of arms, whilst the other features angels. The entire monument was completed in 1453 and immediately erected in its present position within the Piazza del Santo, Padua. It is joined close-by with a number of other cultural attractions within this beautiful and history city.

What Style of Sculptor was Donatello?

Donatello's style was initially rooted in his teachings and the norms of the period. He was a gothic sculptor initially, and this style had been common across Europe for several centuries. It was only when he started to grow and develop as an artist that his true self started to appear within his work. He would then start to append more emotion into the faces of his sculpture figures, using classical looks which also made his work much more dramatic and uplifting. Some have pinpointed his sculptures as the first signs of Renaissance sculpture, where the gothic period was finally fading away in favour of a new approach. He had been struck by the beauty of Ghiberti's sculptures and that would also influence the earlier style of his sculptures, before he started to grow in confidence and forge his own unique direction. Donatello was also unusual in how he took on such a variety of different sculpting materials, and mastered each one successfully.

What other Famous Sculptures did Donatello Produce?

The sculptor's oeuvre was relatively small, but there was an impressive consistency within this output. He would master different mediums, but deliver only the highest quality each time. His most famous contribution remains David, though there were many other notable contributions such as The Feast of Herod, Saint George, Penitent Magdalene and also Saint Mark. His reputation grew to such a level that patrons would commission him for projects, even if he had not completed anything similar up to that point - the confidence that they placed in him had rarely been seen before. Figurative statues were the most common request, though with also many bass-reliefs appearing too. He became rightly regarded as one of the most gifted artists of all time, with his reputation soaring way beyond just the boundaries of sculpture. Thankfully, many of his original works still exist today and some are to be found within publically-accessible spaces, allowing everyone the opportunity to see them.

Some of the most famous painters to have addressed this genre within their oeuvre included El Greco, Diego Velazquez and Peter Paul Rubens. British artist, George Stubbs would become perhaps the most famous equestrian artist several centuries later due to the accuracy of his work and the obsessive nature by which he would capture these graceful creatures. Horses have been used in a variety of ways, with their roles in the military being one major focus. Alternatively, they can also be found in more natural surroundings in other interpretations. The artists of the past tended to be from privileged backgrounds, and some had horses on their own properties, such as Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. These beautiful creatures also offer something unique from an artistic perspective, with elongated limbs and an elegant aura which has helped to make them just so popular. Additionally, racing horses from the past two centuries have also offered another environment for artists to cover.

Where can Donatello's Equestrian Statue of Gattamelata be Found Today?

The status can today be found in the Piazza del Santo, Padua, Italy. The city is situated in the North West of Italy in the region of Veneto. It's precise address is Piazza del Santo, 35123 Padova PD, Italy. You will not need tickets to view the sculpture and it is within an open area of the city, and available all year round to passers by. There are also many cultural attractions to be found in the vicinity of this sculpture, such as statues of Ludovico Ariosto, Giovanni Poleni and also a status of Giotto himself. There is also the University of Padua Botanical Gardens and the University Hospital further down the piazza. They are all in the southern part of the centre of the city, and fairly easy for visitors to find. The historic city also features river ways around the outskirts of Padua and further attractions elsewhere in the city such as parks, museums and galleries.

What other Artistic Treasures can be found in Padua?

The city hosts two items that are listed as UNESCO World Heritage sites. It's Botanical Garden is the first, and is considered to be the oldest of its type, anywhere in the world. There is also the world famous Scrovegni Chapel, whose interior was decorated by Giotto and a team of assistants back in the early 14th century. The city itself is also filled with historical architecture and parks that date back centuries, some of which are adorned with sculptures of famous Venetians from the past. There is the Diocesan Museum of Padua and the Prato della Valle for those looking to fit in more cultural sights. It must also be remembered that Padua is relatively near to Venice, where a huge amount of Renaissance history can also be discovered. The two cities provide an unforgettable destination for art followers from abroad who can fit both in together without too much difficulty.

Large Image of the Statue

All images featured in this page are courtesy of Wikipedia.

Equestrian Statue of Gattamelata in Detail Donatello