Donatello probably did not return to Florence before 1405, since the earliest works in that city that can be traced to his chisel are two small statues of "prophets" for the north door of the cathedral, for which he received payment in November 1406 and in the beginning of 1408. In the latter year he was entrusted with the important commissions for the marble "David," now at the Bargello, and for the colossal seated figure of " St John the Evangelist," which until 1588 occupied a niche of the old cathedral facade, and is now placed in a dark chapel of the Duomo. We find him next employed at Or San Michele, where between 1340 and 1406 only four of the fourteen niches had been filled. As the result of a reminder sent by the Signory to the g ilds who had undertaken to furnish the statues, the services of Ciuffagni,Nanni di Banco, Ghiberti and Donatello were enlisted, and Donatello completed between 1412 and 1415 the "St Peter," the "St George" (the original, now in the Bargello, has been replaced by a copy) and the "St Mark." He probably also assisted Nanni di Banco in his group of four saints. To this early period - in spite of Dr Bode's contention, who places it about twenty years later - belongs the wooden crucifix in S. Croce, the most striking instance of Donatello's realism in rendering the human form and his first attempt at carving the nude. It is said that this crucifix was executed in rivalry with Brunelleschi's noble work at S. Maria Novella, and that Donatello, at the sight of his friend's work, exclaimed, " It has been left to you to shape a real Christ, whilst I have made a peasant." In this early group of statues, from the prophets for the cathedral door to the " St George," can be followed the gradual advance from Gothic stiffness of attitude and draping to a forceful rendering of the human form and of movement, which is a distinct approach to the classic ideal; from the massiveness of the heavily draped figure to easy poise and muscular litheness. All these figures were carved in marble and are admirably conceived in relation to their architectural setting. In fact, so strong is this tendency that the "St Mark," when inspected at the master's workshop, was disapproved of by the heads of the Gild of Linen-weavers, but aroused public enthusiasm when placed in situ, and at a later date received Michelangelo's unstinted admiration.
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This article is from the 1911 edition of an encyclopedia, which is out of copyright here in the U.S. See the encyclopedia main page for disclaimer and copyright information.