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Relief - The Ascension with Christ giving the Keys to St Peter
  • The Ascension with Christ giving the Keys to St Peter
    Donatello, born 1385 - died 1466
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The Ascension with Christ giving the Keys to St Peter

  • Object:

    Relief

  • Place of origin:

    Florence (carved)

  • Date:

    ca. 1428-1430 (carved)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Donatello, born 1385 - died 1466 (sculptor)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Carved marble in very low relief

  • Museum number:

    7629-1861

  • Gallery location:

    Medieval & Renaissance, Room 64a, The Robert H. Smith Gallery, case 2

This relief is one of the finest surviving examples of Donatello's work in rilievo schiacciato, literally 'squashed relief', a technique which he developed. It is recorded in the Palazzo Medici in an inventory made after the death of Lorenzo de' Medici il Magnifico in 1492, and in the Palazzo Salviati in Florence in 1591. The circumstances of the commission are not known, but it has been suggested that it may have been carved for niche designed to house a figure of St Peter on the exterior of the church of Orsanmichele in Florence. The niche housing a St George by Donatello has a similar low relief scene below it.

Physical description

The Ascension with Christ giving the Keys to Saint Peter, marble carved in low relief, with numerous figures, representing Jesus Christ delivering the Keys to Saint Peter. In the centre of the upper part of the relief is the seated figure of Christ, with head bent in right profile and right hand raised in benediction, presenting the keys with his left hand to St Peter, who stands beneath him on the right. In the clouds to right and left of Christ are four angels. Below and to the left of Christ is the kneeling figure of the Virgin in right profile with her right hand outstretched. Behind St Peter stand five apostles, grouped roughly in a semi-circle, and behind the Virgin are five further apostles ranged in a descending line. To their left, in the left lower corner of the relief are two standing angels. The scene is set in a hilly landscape.

The relief is slightly chipped along the lower edge.

Place of Origin

Florence (carved)

Date

ca. 1428-1430 (carved)

Artist/maker

Donatello, born 1385 - died 1466 (sculptor)

Materials and Techniques

Carved marble in very low relief

Dimensions

Height: 40.9 cm, Width: 114.1 cm, Weight: 60.5 kg

Object history note

The relief is one of the finest surviving examples of Donatello's work in rilievo schiacciato, literally 'squashed relief', a technique which he developed. It is recorded in the Palazzo Medici in an inventory made after the death of Lorenzo de' Medici il Magnifico in 1492, and in the Palazzo Salviati in Florence in 1591. The circumstances of the commission are not known, but several theories have been put forward. The suggestions that it may have been carved for the altar of the Brancacci Chapel in the Carmini in Florence, the painted decoration of which omits this important scene, is now largely rejected. It was, however, appealing, as the two scenes - which are not combined in the gospels - formed part of a mystery play performed in the church. The proposal that it was intended to form part of the base of the niche on the church of Orsanmichele, designed to house the figure of St Peter, in a similar arrangement to that of the St George by Donatello, has met with more favour. The wooden frame probably dates from the nineteenth century but is possibly made from reused carved wood sections.

Descriptive line

The Ascension with Christ giving the Keys to St Peter, marble carved in low relief, Donatello, Italy (Florence), ca. 1428-30

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Triqueti, Henry de. "Les Sculptures du Museé de South Kensington", in: La Gazette des Beaux-Arts, 83 livraison, t. XIV, 1er mai 1863, p. 463 (repr.)
Inventory of Art Objects Acquired in the Year 1861 In: Inventory of the Objects in the Art Division of the Museum at South Kensington, Arranged According to the Dates of their Acquisition. Vol I. London: Printed by George E. Eyre and William Spottiswoode for H.M.S.O., 1868, p.
Maclagan, Eric and Longhurst, Margaret H. Catalogue of Italian Sculpture. Text. London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 1932, pp. 19, 20
Avery, Charles. Donatello. Catalogo Completo delle Opere. Florence, 1991, pp. 56-57, cat.no.36
Greenhalgh, Michael. Donatello and his Sources. London, 1982
Levine Dunkelman, Martha. 'A new look at Donatello's Saint Peter's Tabernacle'. In: Gazette des Beaux Arts. CXVII, 1991, pp 1-16
Pope-Hennessy, John. Donatello. Berlin 1986, pp. 14-15, 94, 99
Rosenauer. Artur. Donatello. Milan 1993, pp. 84-87, no 19, p. 104, p. 184
Schultz Markham, Anne. The Sculpture of Bernardo Rossellino and his Workshop. Princeton 1977, p. 29
Jolly, Anna. Madonnas by Donatello and his Circle. Phd Thesis, Cambridge 1992, pp. 20, 21
Seymour Jr., Charles Sculpture in Italy 1400-1500 Pelican History of Art, Harmondsworth 1966. pp. 86, 234, n.20, pl. 323
Poeschke, J. Die Skulptur der Renaissance in Italien, Band I. Donatello und seine Zeit, Munich, 1990, pp. 100-101, pl 71
Avery, Charles. Florentine Renaissance Sculpture. New York, 1970. p. 48, pl. 29
Pope-Hennessy, John. Donatello: Sculptor. New York, 1993, pp. 123-5, ill. pp. 126-8, 129, 132, 244, 254, 285, 316, 332, 333n
Avery, Charles. Donatello, an Introduction. New York 1994, pp. 36-39
Raggio, Olga. Catalogue of Italian Sculpture in the Victoria and Albert Museum. Art Bulletin. Vol. L, 1968, p. 100
Avery, Charles. 'Donatello's marble narrative reliefs'. In: Le vie del marmot. Aspetti della prduzione e della diffusione dei manufatti marmorei tra Quattrocento e Cinquecento, Centro culturale L. Russo, 3rd October 1992, pp. 8, 10, note 6, illus 1.
Motture, Peta in Williamson, Paul (ed), European Sculpture at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, Victoria and Albert Museum, 1996, pp. 76-77
Bennett, Bonnie A. and Wilkins G. David. Donatello. Oxford, 1984, pp. 136-140, notes 2-5, fig 76
Carl, Doris. Benedetto da Maiano. A Florentine Sculptor at the Threshold of the High Renaissance. Regensburg, 2006, pp. 59, 76, fig. 27
Bormand, Marc; Paolozzi Strozzi, Beatrice; Penny, Nicolas. Desiderio da Settignano. Sculptor of Renaissance Florence. Exhibiton Catalogue, Musée du Louvre, Paris; Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence; National Art Gallery, Washington, 2007, pp. 176, 177
Lillie, Amanda, 'Sculpting the Air: Donatello's Narratives of the Environment' in Donal Cooper and Marika Leino (eds), Depth of Field: Relief Sculpture in Renaissance Italy, Bern: Peter Lang, 2007, pp. 97-124
Motture, Peta in Donal Cooper and Marika Leino (eds), Depth of Field: Relief Sculpture in Renaissance Italy, Bern: Peter Lang, 2007, pp. 157-158
p. 27
Motture, P., Jones, E. and Zikos, D., ed. by, Carvings, Casts and Collectors: The Art of Renaissance Sculpture, London, 2013
Curtis, Penelope, Depth of Field: the place of relief in the time of Donatello, Leeds: Henry Moore Institute, 2004

Labels and date

Donatello devised a way of carving in shallow relief called rilievo schiacciato
or ‘squashed relief’. The biographer Vasari admired Donatello’s great skill in this difficult technique.
This sculpture is arguably the finest example of rilievo schiacciato. It combines two scenes that occurred separately in the Gospels but were sometimes performed together in mystery plays. The original location of the work is unknown but it was recorded in the Palazzo Medici in 1492. [2009]

Materials

Marble

Techniques

Carving; Low relief

Subjects depicted

Landscape; Angels; Apostles; Trees

Categories

Sculpture; Religion; Christianity

Collection

Sculpture Collection

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