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Video transcript

we're on the second floor of Orson McKinley and here one after the other are of the monumental sculptures that had once filled the niches outside it's important to remember that Orson makayley is in many ways the place that the Renaissance began in Florence it began in this space that had both a secular function as a granary but also a spiritual function it's also a church and these were sculptures commissioned by the guild and so it makes sense that these first Renaissance sculptures would be commissioned not by a church but by guilds by these secular organizations okay so let's take one as an example one of the important guilds in the city were the linen workers and we're standing in front of st. mark which is this monumental sculpture by Donatello we know it's for the linen workers because he is standing on a pillow presumably made of women right if we think about him outside in that niche and imagine walking by him you could almost imagine this way that you would relate to him that you could engage with him right on the streets of Florence this sense of civic pride of bringing beauty to the city there really is a sense of immediacy here this is Donatella's brilliance I mean here we have a figure that is first of all reviving the classical in really important ways this is a figure that is an incredible early expression of contrapposto that hasn't been seen with this kind of understanding for a thousand years if we look at so many of the other figures that were created for us and Micaela they still have that gothic sway to the hips and what Donatello gives us instead is something that looks very much like an ancient Roman sculpture look for instance at the hips that push to his right and over the engaged leg you have the cloth falling in perfect unbroken lines almost as if that's the fluting of a classical column it's on the other side that you can see the knee breaking the cloth and you can really get a sense even though it's under this heavy drapery you still understand the movement of the body the turn of the the turn of the hips the axis of the knees yeah Donatello's borrowing this directly from ancient Greek and Roman sculpture there's no other place he could have gotten this from and so the figure because of the contrapposto really looks alive he looks like he can truly walk his feet are firmly planted on the ground the sense that the weight is shifting gives a sense that he could walk at any second we have an idea of sculpture beginning to be separate from the architecture I mean even though he was in a niche and he was intended for the architecture the contrapposto the sense of movement gives us a sense of his autonomy from the architect but it's also the authenticity of his experience and so it's a revival of the classical not only in terms of the mechanics of the body but also in terms of the experience of the individual you said a moment ago we would walk down the street and see this figure in a niche there would be a comedian kind of relationship and yes that's true but at the same time he's seeing further he's also seeing past us right it's this bringing together of the spiritual and the human so close at this moment in the early 15th century in Florence look at the face there's a kind of intelligence as a kind of internal focus there's a kind of awareness that is just piercing and he's thinking he's reflecting on the Gospels that he holds so easily at his side and perhaps he's about to speak them to us there is this way in which our eyes were drawn up through the planar quality of the drapery to the more focused handling of the stone near the beard near his eyes look at that furrowed brow so that he's somebody that we can understand approach in some real way you know the sculptures like the ones by Guilbert T that are more in that high Gothic style the face is often more plain right and less individualized and our focus goes on those decorative forms and the Draper's distracted in a sense exactly and so we don't have that human to human connection that we're getting here here instead of focusing on the drapery above the drapery is fabulous we look directly at the face and we see the furrowed brow the eyes that gaze out the beard that animal it's his face it makes it seem even more thoughtful his receding hairline then we looked down at his hands and we can see that Donatello has clearly been thinking about human anatomy those are not just generalized shapes for hands but a sense of bone and muscle and veins and then down to the feet firmly planted on the ground when the Florentines looked up at st. mark as they walked they looked up at him and saw a figure that had no bolt that enabled them that they looked at st. mark and could have a sense of their own profound dignity as human beings as Florentines in the early 15th century in a way st. mark is a mirror and so isn't that exactly what this notion of civic pride that was so tied in to 15th century Florence was really about this notion that we can rise to our own ideals we can be like the ancient Romans and be virtuous and shake off the corruption of the medieval and in a sense return to the greatness that man had once known