“Donatello was one of the greatest artists who ever lived.” That remark—made in a speech at the Detroit Institute of Arts in connection with a recent exhibition of Donatello’s sculpture—would elicit nothing more than “of course” from anybody familiar with the context, that is, with “sculpture through the ages.” It’s like saying Tolstoy was one of the greatest writers. But Donatello is less familiar, so the statement doesn’t seem quite as much of a truism. The reasons for this are many. For one thing, among the major arts, sculpture has the least impact on general modern culture. Because of its being mostly monochrome, and because of the problem of multiple views that photography cannot solve, sculpture has trouble getting absorbed into the museum without walls of coffee-table books. (Books on Donatello have consistently tried to compensate with hype,...


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