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Gattamelata (Donatello)

This article is about Donatello’s Renaissance sculpture. For the condottiere Erasmo da Narni (“Gattamelata”), see Erasmo da Narni.

Gattamelata is an equestrian statue of Venetian condottiere Erasmo da Narni. Donatello sculpted the work in 1453[1] during the Renaissance in Italy, both reviving the grandeur of Classical-era portraiture and incorporating the realism, humanism, and individualism of the Renaissance. Gattamelata remains in the Piazza del Santo in Padua, Italy, today.


Historical context

Gattameta reflects the artistic and philosophic trends of the Renaissance and the political turmoil of 15th century Italy.

The Renaissance

The Renaissance was a time of great artistic achievement and innovation, and was marked by renewed focus on Classical artistic themes. Art of this time period was marked by greater realism and the natural depiction of the human form. Humanism played a major part in Renaissance art. The individualism that humanism fostered led to a greater emphasis on portraiture and attention to the power of the individual. For more on the Renaissance and humanism, see Renaissance.

Turbulent Italy

Italy during this time was composed of rivaling city-states governed predominantly by signori as autocratic oligarchies.[2] This system of ruling, division, and proximity led to warfare and preparedness for it; Venice’s fleet alone consisted of more than 3,300 ships.[3] Thus, Italy at this time was tumultuous and unstable.

About Gattamelata

Gattamelata." Photo taken by Nina Aldin Thune

After Erasmo da Narni’s death in 1443, the mercenary’s family paid for a sculpture in his honor. Standing at 12’ 2’’, and a majestic tribute to Erasmo da Narni’s power, Gattamelata is the first Renaissance equestrian statue and the first to reintroduce the grandeur of Classical equestrian portraiture.[4] After its conception, Gattamelata served as a precedent for later sculptures honoring military heroes.[5]

Gattamelata is a bronze statue done, as were all bronze statues of this time, in the lost wax method. Its dignity, majesty, and grandeur recall earlier equestrian statues from the ancient Classical era, such as the sculpture of Marcus Aurelius. Although the statue sits on a pedestal, which is approximately 25½ feet tall,[6] both da Narni and his horse are portrayed in life size. Instead of portraying the soldier as larger-than-life, as the sculptor of Marcus Aurelius did, using a sort of hierarchy of size to demonstrate the subject's power, Donatello used emotion, position, and symbolism to convey the same message. Thus, Donatello makes a statement of the power of the real-life individual; he does not need to embellish or make grander whom da Narni was – the simple depiction of the real man is enough to convey his power.

The pedestal

The pedestal under Gattamelata is composed of two reliefs toward the top with fake doors underneath. The doors symbolize the gates of the underworld, lending the feeling of a tomb, though the monument was never a burial place.[7] One relief is of da Narni’s coat of arms flanked by two putti (cherubs, or pudgy, infant angels) that are pointing to it. The other relief is of angels displaying battle armor.[8]

Analysis of Gattamelata

Erasmo da Narni sits high on his horse with a stern look straight ahead. The emotion on his face is serious. Donatello portrays Gattamelata as a stolid ruler, one people can trust and follow. In the turbulent times of 15th century Italy (see above), these characteristics would have been highly valued, especially in a soldier-leader, as the condottieri were. The usage of force of character and the reference to the power of real people flows with the Renaissance themes of individualism and humanism.

In comparison to da Narni’s stolid appearance, his horse is a depiction of flowing beauty and triumph. Its head is cocked to one side, and its legs appear as though they are trotting. Its apparent muscular form and careful, accurate, realistic depiction bring to mind studies of the human anatomy and the muscular figures of later Renaissance painters da Vinci and Michelangelo, respectively. While the form depicted here is a horse, the Renaissance themes of naturalism and the careful depiction of forms (human or otherwise) hold true.

Donatello also conveys da Narni’s power with symbolism. Da Narni’s horse’s front left hoof rests on an orb, which symbolizes the earth, representing his power not only in Padua or Italy, but in the entire world. This is especially rare and noticeable as da Narni was not a head of state.[9]

Finally, da Narni’s position and physical depiction also portrays his power and strength. He is portrayed as a war figure, in armor with a lengthy sword upon his waist. He commands a powerful horse, and both appear ready for battle. While da Narni died in his 70s, Donatello depicts him at the height of his power, further emphasizing his might and abilities.[10]

Gattamelata and earlier post-classical equestrian statues

Gattamelata is a sharp departure from earlier, post-classical equestrian statues. Take for example the Gothic Bamberg Rider (ca. 1235-1240). While it most likely depicts a German emperor, it lacks the dimension, power, and naturalism of Gattamelata. The horse appears nearly two-dimensional and lacks the detail to figure and musculature that its Renaissance counterpart took into account. While the rider is also in fairly realistic proportion to his horse, he, too, lacks the strength of da Narni. Da Narni is portrayed as a real man, his armor a badge of status; this ruler, however, appears almost deflated, lost in the carefully sculpted drapery that covers him. His power is derived solely from his crown, reflecting the differences that Renaissance individualism produced: here, position – the crown – is what matters, whereas in Gattamelata, it is the individual and his character that matter. A comparison between these two statues clearly shows how significantly Renaissance humanism, naturalism, and revival of Classical artistic themes affected 15th century Italian art.

For a picture of the Bamberg Rider, please see the Web Gallery of Art

Equestrian Statue of Marcus Aurelius, taken by Sébastien Betrand

Gatamelata and the Equestrian Statue of Marcus Aurelius

Just as a comparison between Gattamelata and the Bamberg Rider illustrates the departure of Renaissance art from the style of earlier post-Classical art works, a comparison between the sculpture and that of Marcus Aurelius shows how closely Renaissance artists looked at Classical art and its themes. In this depiction of Marcus Aurelius, the emperor dwarfs his horse, dominating it by size. However, the emperor also has a facial expression of dominance and determination. Marcus Aurelius’s horse is dressed up, and, while the emperor himself is clad in robes, not armor, he appears both the political and military leader. The attention to the horse’s musculature and movement and the realistic depiction of the emperor (forgiving his size) are mirrored in Gattamelata. Also similar is the feeling of grandeur, authority, and power both portraits exude.

See also

  • Donatello
  • History of sculpture


  1. Draper, James David. “Donatello (ca 1386-1466)”.
  2. “The Early Renaissance: 1400-1494.”
  3. “The Early Renaissance: 1400-1494.”
  4. Kleiner, Fred S. Gardner’s Art Through the Ages, p 551
  5. Sullivan, Mary Ann. “Equestrian monument of Erasmo da Narni, called Gattamelata.”
  6. Sullivan, Mary Ann. “Equestrian monument of Erasmo da Narni, called Gattamelata.”
  7. Sullivan, Mary Ann. “Equestrian monument of Erasmo da Narni, called Gattamelata.”
  8. Sullivan, Mary Ann. “Equestrian monument of Erasmo da Narni, called Gattamelata.”
  9. Kleiner, Fred S. Gardner’s Art Through the Ages, p 551
  10. Sullivan, Mary Ann. “Equestrian monument of Erasmo da Narni, called Gattamelata.”


  • Draper, James David. "Donatello (ca. 1386–1466)". In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000. [1] (October 2002)
  • "The Early Renaissance: 1400-1494." Web. 28 Feb. 2010. [2]
  • Kleiner, Fred S. Gardner's Art Through the Ages A Global History, Volume II. Belmont: Wadsworth, 2008. Print.
  • Sullivan, Mary Ann. "Equestrian monument of Erasmo da Narni, called Gattamelata." 2006. Web. 28 Feb. 2010. [3]

External links


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