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Donatello, Feast of Herod

Donatello, Feast of Herod

(jazz music) Dr. Zucker: We have walked from the Duomo around to its back and at its back is a very large building, which is, in part, its baptistry. Dr. Harris: Like the cathedral
itself, this has a surface of black and white striped stone and different colored
marble on the outside, but also fresco on the ceilings and walls. Dr. Zucker: The baptismal
font stands in the middle of the building itself. It is quite large. Dr. Harris: It’s very
classical in its form. It’s got six sides with six
bronze reliefs at the base, separated by angels
and figures of virtues. The top part of the font, we see a very classical
structure with niches, with sculpted figures,
surmounted also by frees and pediments. Dr. Zucker: The bronze plaques themselves are 15th century and they
are by a variety of artists. Some are local Sienese
artists, but there are at least a couple of identifiable Florentines. There’s Ghiberti and the
most famous image here is by Donatello. That’s the Feast of Herod. Dr. Harris: It’s interesting
to think about the city states vying for the best
artists and Siena inviting the great Florentine artist
Donatello to do a bronze panel for this baptismal font. Dr. Zucker: Some art
historians have suggested that Donatello was brought
in to goad Ghiberti into getting his work done. Apparently, he had received a commission and hadn’t done the work. Dr. Harris: This idea of
setting up artists to compete to get the best results
and get them on time was something that we
see also in Florence. Dr. Zucker: The image by
Donatello is an amazing one. The story is horrific. It speaks of King Herod,
who has ordered a henchman and assassin to bring him
the head of John the Baptist on a plate. Dr. Harris: He does
that because of Salome. Salome offers to dance for King Herod if he will grant her a
request and after she dances for him, she requests the head
of Saint John the Baptist. Dr. Zucker: It’s a salacious
story, but also, of course, for the Christian perspective,
a really horrific one. On the left, the head of
John the Baptist on a platter being presented by the
assassin to King Herod himself, who, with several
children, look horrified. They back away, his hands
are up, a surprised revulsion at the actual sight of this head. Dr. Harris: Yeah, they
turn away and almost move outside of the bronze panel. Dr. Zucker: On the right side, you can see Salome herself and she’s in a sensuous s curve that
really speaks to her dance. Dr. Harris: And to Donatello, looking back at ancient Greek and Roman sculpture, she’s very classicizing. We have a continuous narrative here, because in the distance we see the head of Saint John the Baptist being brought and in the foreground we see
that head being presented to King Herod. In typical Donatello fashion, we have an incredible illusion of
space and Donatello using high relief and very low relief to convey a very convincing illusion of space. Dr. Zucker: He’s aided
in the illusion of space by the use of a linear perspective, which is almost unheard
of in relief carving, but by parting the two groups of figures, he’s exposing the tile
floor, which is giving us clear indications of orthogonals
moving back in space. Dr. Harris: This panel
dates to just about the time that Masaccio was
creating The Holy Trinity, so both artists were utilizing
Brunelleschi’s discovery of linear perspective to
create an illusion of depth. Dr. Zucker: This is just
a few years, after all, after Brunelleschi really
develops or rediscovers linear perspective and its principles. Dr. Harris: We know that
Donatello, if we look at the figures at Orsanmichele,
was really interested in the human psyche and we
really see that interest in human emotion here and
the drama, the narrative of the story. Dr. Zucker: Look at the
figure just in back, who holds that hand to the
face, just can’t even bear this sight, it is so terrible. This is a story that’s appropriate
in that it is of the death of Saint John the Baptist,
but we see actually, a family coming in now with
a baby and this is clearly a joyous moment. It’s such a contrast with the image that we’re seeing here. Oh, we’re actually being asked to leave. The baby is apparently
going to be baptised. (baby crying) (jazz music)

4 thoughts on “Donatello, Feast of Herod”

  1. Y'know, I really appreciate "Smart History." Not only am I getting a great ancillary education in art, but you're also helping me expand my vocabulary. "Salacious" is my new word, meaning "lustful," "pornographic" or "crude." "Incipient" was another word I learned from another of your videos. I have no reason to stop thanking you yet.

  2. Can you please show me in print the name of the discoverer of linear perspective? I can't quite catch it in the video. Thanks!

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