Depth of Field: the place of relief in the time of Donatello

21 Sep 2004 – 27 Mar 2005

Exhibition in Galleries 1, 2 and 3

Relief sculpture fascinates and perplexes, hovering between simple decoration and full-scale pictorial illusion. This exhibition examines the nature of relief at the beginning of the Renaissance period.

Relief sculpture could be found on the surface of every kind of artefact in fifteenth-century Italy, a time when the distinction between fine and decorative arts hardly applied.

Works by Donatello (1386-1466) and his contemporaries were related to a wider material experience, as the show looked first at the contextual and historical range of the relief, and then at the viewer’s engagement with its subjects.

Depth of Field: the place of relief in the time of Donatello is the result of a unique collaboration with the Victoria and Albert Museum which has offered an unparalleled opportunity to borrow forty works, including 'The Ascension with Christ Giving the Keys to St Peter', the most important relief by Donatello in Britain, from the museum’s rich collections of fine and decorative art. Curators from both institutions have worked on this exhibition which will reflect their different specialisms, and aims to reveal the continuities of the Renaissance with both the medieval and earlier ages.

The exhibition opens with a wide-ranging introduction to the culture of relief, looking at the many places in which it could appear, highlighting some of the physical and conceptual reasons for its presence.

Moving through the galleries, Depth of Field turns to the theme of the Virgin and Child, a much loved subject. The exhibition offers the chance to compare works originally designed for very different places, by artists including Agostino di Duccio and Andrea della Robbia, as well as Donatello. Street Madonnas take their place alongside more precious and intimate icons, juxtaposing reliefs made for public or private devotion.

The final gallery focuses on Donatello’s exceptional carving, 'The Ascension with Christ Giving the Keys to St Peter'. This offers the viewer, who has now been acquainted with looking at reliefs, the opportunity to consider one of the most puzzling and anomalous relief works in the history of art.

An audio recording of Glyn Davies talk 'Ghiberti and the making of reliefs' is available in the Henry Moore Institute Research Library.

Venue details

Venue address

Henry Moore Institute
The Headrow
United Kingdom
T: 0113 246 7467

Opening times

Galleries: Tuesday to Sunday, 10am - 5pm

Research Library: Monday to Saturday, 10am - 5pm; Sunday, 1 - 5pm
Archive of Sculptors' Papers: Tuesday to Friday, by prior appointment

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