In an art world teeming with crass nouveaux riches grabbing trophies at auction for insane prices, once prominent dealers in prison, ArtBasel Miami, and the "Da Vinci" industry, it is deeply comforting to find an enterprise like Andrew Butterfield's refreshingly sober, but gorgeous and energizing exhibition of a single work of art: a spiritello (more commonly called by its 16th century name, "putto") which he found, eventually purchased, and now presents to the public with a carefully researched, modestly proposed attribution to Donatello (Donato di Niccolo di Betto Bardi, Florence, 1386 or 1387 to 1466), the greatest of Italian sculptors of the Renaissance—I have always preferred his work to Michelangelo's. As a teenager I made my way around the David in the Bargello with my father, and we both agreed it was superior to Michelangelo's, and, as much as I've admired Michelangelo's sculpture, and written about it, I still consider Donatello to the greater of the two. If Dr. Butterfield's exhibition achieves nothing else, it pinpoints the reasons why Donatello is in fact the greatest and most influential sculptor of the Italian Renaissance.
There is more to the exhibit currently underway at the Palazzo di Venezia than meets the eye. What it lacks in size it makes up for in importance. Composed mainly of statuary and reliefs by Donatello, Andrea Bregno, Michelangelo and their pupils, it focuses on the underappreciated stylistic transition that took place from 1460 to 1520 in Roman workshops as they moved, roughly speaking, from the purity of classicism, to the sublimity of humanism, to the energy of Renaissance rationalism.