Donatello, Prophet Jeremiah

Original location
Giotto's bell tower, west side, niche
White marble
Height: 194 cm; Width: 63,5 cm; Depth: 55 cm;

Sculpted by Donatello between 1423 and 1436 and depicting the prophet Jeremiah, this white marble sculpture is a masterpiece of the early Renaissance. Originally placed on the north side of Giotto's bell tower, it was then moved to the second niche on the western façade of the Cathedral. Two inscriptions, perhaps later additions, identify the author and subject; on the slim podium: “Donatelli” (“di Donatello”) and “GE <re> MIA” in the cartouche held by the figure.

Donatello represented the prophet as a man of about 50, with a powerful body, in an upright pose, slightly twisting and leaning backward, his weight resting on his right leg and his head turned to the left. He is cloaked in a large tunic, clasping his shoulders but leaving portions of his chest, the right arm and legs uncovered. The right hand is held to the body and the hand clasps his thigh; the left is raised to hold the cartouche with his name and at the same time a hem of the robe. His face is characterised by Donatello's extraordinary naturalism: the dishevelled hair and light beard give the prophet a rugged appearance; his harsh features are contracted in a feeling of sad concern, but also of firmness. The physical strength and the gaze fixed on the horizon, the pose itself, as if in firm defence, ensure that the figure as a whole expresses great strength and moral dignity.

Donatello sought to express in marble what we read in the biblical book of Jeremiah: he is in fact the prophet disrespected by his own people; in the midst of a period of peace and prosperity, by divine command, Jeremiah had announced the imminent enslavement of Babylon, in this way renouncing his own life of peace.

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