(b. ca. 1386, Firenze, d. 1466, Firenze)

Equestrian Statue of Gattamelata

Bronze, 340 x 390 cm (without base)
Piazza del Santo, Padua

Donatello's other important Paduan commission besides the High Altar in the Basilica, of a very different kind, was the creation of a bronze equestrian monument (1447–53) to Erasmo da Narni (1370–1443), known as Gattamelata, a deceased captain-general of the Venetian army. This is the earliest surviving equestrian statue from the Renaissance. It was a revival of an ancient Roman type known at the time principally from the Marcus Aurelius in Rome.

To support the great weight of the thickly cast bodies of horse and rider on only four legs was a great technical achievement: Donatello would have liked to have had one forehoof raised free, as in his ancient prototype (as well as in the Horses on San Marco, Venice, which were much nearer to Padua), but he did not dare. Instead he fell back on the device of propping it up by a cannon ball conveniently lying on the field of battle. The General is brilliantly portrayed and idealized as a heroic man of action, using a close-cropped Roman hairstyle and the Classical type of light war-horse. Details on his armour also recall antiquity, though the long broadsword and cannon ball reflect contemporary warfare. This was an image that inspired Verrocchio, challenged Leonardo da Vinci and, ultimately, in the work of Giambologna 150 years later, spread to all the great squares of Europe, as a symbol appropriate for monarchs.

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