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Graduate Spring 2018: Elizabeth Petersen

Donatello Architetto: On the Order of Architecture in the Work of Donatello

Department of Art History

Donatello Architetto: On the Order of Architecture in the Work of Donatello

Donatello has long fascinated Renaissance Art Historians, and yet there is little discussion of his role in the burgeoning architectural scene of his native Florence. My dissertation conducts the first sustained, career-length study of the architectural element and its relation to narrative in the oeuvre of this celebrated sculptor, and its broader connections to the built environment of his home city. I consider the full range of Donatello’s architectural output, such as his architectural frameworks in the form of altarpieces and pulpits, but my focus is on the fictive architectural settings of his many narrative reliefs, and their contribution to the meaning and overall conception in terms of narrative, historical and site-specific content, and the broader dramatic aspect of each composition. During my residency at the Humanities Institute, I intend to study the complex nature of fifteenth-century sculptor-architects in Florence. These men usually trained as stone carvers or goldsmiths and took on the challenges of construction, frequently learning as the projects progressed. Despite Donatello’s close relationship, and in some cases working partnerships, with some of the most prominent sculptor-architects of the day, he is still generally viewed only as a sculptor. This introductory chapter, which clarifies the blurred boundaries between sculptors and architects is crucial for my summative argument that Donatello was an influential figure in the field of architecture, despite never actually designing or executing a building project. This argument serves as the foundation for the following individual case studies, where I show that Donatello’s architectural influence lies in the fictive structures of his sculptures where he manipulates space in unique and innovative ways.