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we're in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and we're looking at Donatella's Madonna of the clouds if this is a small marble relief and its square which is unusual and it's what art historians call a really a Vasya Chatto when we say relief you might have been thinking about a sculpture that had figures that stood out more from the background but this is a flattened relief where there's only the few millimeters that come up from the background of the marble and yet what I find so remarkable is that Donatello was able to achieve a great sense of depth despite or perhaps because of the flatness of the relief carving and this is a technique that he developed very much to help to create an illusion of space something that was so important to early Renaissance artists looking at this carving I'm reminded of the extraordinary strides of naturalism that took place in the 15th century developed by artists like Donatello by Masaccio by Montaigne and others I think very much Donatello wants to convince us of the realism of this scene well look at Mary she's got real volume real weight her right leg seems to fall open towards us there really is the sense of mass and volume even though it's this little piece of marble carved just millimeters deep and Donatello spent so much time on those folds of drapery that really show the form of the body underneath but that also take on a lovely life of their own as they swoop up and around Mary's thighs or around her shoulders or that headdress that she wears where the folds flip over one another and so that curves the rhyming curves of the drapery echo the form of the clouds below and Mary in a way becomes one with the heavens there are this beautiful intimate passages look at the way that the body relates to that Draper the way it sort of falls over and you really get a sense of Donatello paying attention to ancient Greek and Roman sculpture her left foot pulls the drapery forward and makes it taut and creates that wonderful sense of volume oh we could look at her right hand tips of mary's fingers pull into the draperies and we get a sense of the drapery pulling around her hand or her other hand which clasps Christ and especially his shoulder in the way that she presses flat his flesh there's no other reason to do this than to convince us of naturalism of this accept that he or she is funny cloud like space it almost looks as if it's a kind of stream on the one hand there's naturalism but on the other hand she's surrounded by these little angels with halos but that's exactly what the early Renaissance is right it's this odd combination of realism of paying attention to the body of paying attention to an illusion of space of paying attention to human emotion and we certainly see that here in the relationship of Mary and Christ this kind of tenderness so we pay attention to all of those real human experiences but at the same time we're looking at a spiritual scene look at the variety of kinds of carving that are in this small piece of marble Mary's face is the most deeply carved of anything on this panel you have a deepest shadow that's outlining her profile and it reminds me to have an ancient Roman cameo the way that she's in perfect profile but also the way that the shadow outlines that face there's also shadow by her eyes and her nose creates a sense of sadness as she tips her head forward toward Christ there is a sense of melancholy throughout this entire image these are not joyous angels there's clearly a sense of the eventual tragedy well she looks as though she's protecting him she encloses him within the form of her body and brings him towards her what seems to me a protective gesture she is monumental Christ as monumental and the angels that surround them immediately are fairly substantial but donnatal was able to achieve a real sense of depth by reducing the scale of the Angels as we moved back in space and also by reducing the depth of the carving so that the angels on the upper right corner and the upper left corner are carved in the most shallow possible way look at for example the angel on the upper right the tip of her wing is not even carved it seems to just sort of move back into space so there is a sense of atmosphere that these figures seem to exist in and yet Donatello was able to achieve this extraordinary expressiveness in just millimeters