Donatello, Saint John the Evangelist

Sala del Paradiso
Original location
Cathedral, medieval facade
White marble
Height: 210 cm; Width: 88 cm; Depth: 54 cm;
White marble

White marble statue (apparently in the round but actually carved only on the visible parts) depicting Saint John the Evangelist. It is an absolute masterpiece of the Renaissance, created by Donatello between 1409 and 1415 and coming from the first niche to the right of the central portal of the Cathedral. It was part of the series of four evangelists created in the fifteenth century for this portion of the medieval façade.

The saint, author of the fourth Gospel, three Letters and the Book of Revelation, is depicted as an elderly man with a long beard, draped with a large old-fashioned mantle, sitting on a seat, with one hand resting on one leg and the other resting on a book open towards him and held on the thigh of the left leg. The saint makes a slight twist as if to turn towards the entrance of the faithful and the expression on his face is austere, perhaps worried or alarmed and contemplative, apparently directed towards the observer but with his pupils concentrated on a distant horizon. The figure is rendered with extraordinary naturalism both in the drapery and in the anatomical definition and the profound and acute psychological rendering of the gaze and attitude is also dizzying: he is quiet in body and vibrant in spirit. This sense of dynamic latent energy and the iconographic choice to represent the elderly evangelist, therefore in the time in which according to tradition he wrote the Apocalypse, suggests that Donatello wanted to allude to the moment of his vision of the end of the world.

The modernity of the work is such that a century later Michelangelo took inspiration from it for his Moses. When Arnolfo's façade was dismantled in 1587, Saint John and the other evangelists were transferred to the Cathedral, in the Tribune of San Zanobi. They arrived in the Museum in the 1904.

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Sala del Paradiso