“Did Donatello Draw?” was the basis for Michael Cole’s, Professor and Chair of the Department of Art History and Archaeology at Columbia University, presentation this past Wednesday. Donatello was known for his highly emotional sculptures and perhaps had created some drawings in his day as well.
In the dimmed and crowded Diffley Boardroom of Bellarmine Hall, Cole explained to the audience how Giorgio Vasari, biographer and historian, claimed that most Renaissance sculptors could not draw. He then proceeded to display three controversial drawings that were believed to be by Italian sculptors.
Cole did an excellent job of clearly depicting where and how the drawings could be linked to the sculptures. The pictures he used in his slideshow were not only simple pictures from a normal distance, but also microscopically close while maintaining clarity. Additionally, Cole utilized a red dotted pointer when indicating certain aspects of the drawings and sculptures.
One thing he did not do while presenting was project or even be mindful of speaking into the microphone, which was difficult because he was somewhat soft-spoken. Despite his soft tone, he still presented intriguing points, as well as fascinating information about Italian Renaissance art.
When addressing the drawings compared to the sculptures Cole posed the question, “Which came first?”; a difficult question to answer. He explained the importance of the art’s subject, key components of a piece and historical evidence in order to come to a conclusion.
The most problematic work Cole discussed was a double sided drawing by Donatello. The problem arises since there are no surviving documents that Donatello drew at this time. However, the man depicted on one side of the drawing was compared to Donatello’s bronze David sculpture, leading many to believe that Donatello drew the piece.
It seems plausible, especially when there appears to be proportion and scale lines on the drawing, something that would be useful for the Italian Renaissance sculptor. Cole then zoomed in on a corner of this piece, signed “Donatello.” However, that did not answer the question of whether the drawing was Donatello’s, for there is another signed name, “Beronamico,” at the other end of the drawing. Since it is rare for there to be two names, Cole proposed that a probable explanation would be that one of the names is wrong.
The other side of the drawing displayed a “Massacre of Innocence” scene that also had some kind of scale markings on it. Therefore, Cole revealed that the motive for a sculptor to draw would be the need to document their work with notary.
When asking for the second time, “Did Donatello Draw?” Cole concluded by saying, “I don’t know,” leaving the audience more curious and torn regarding the subject.