Donatello's decapitations and the rhetoric of beheading in Medicean Florence

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Abstract:

Abstract

While Donatello's bronze sculptures of Judith and David are stylistically discrete, and may have been originally created in and for different contexts, they are firmly connected to one another through their content: both figures clearly are characterized as active agents of decapitation. As this article argues, the Medici fostered a familial association with the iconographic, symbolic and practical language of decapitation in Florence since the Albizzi coup of 1433–4, when the family came to be associated with the feast of St John the Baptist's martyrdom, through the placement of the Donatello sculptures in the family palace in the 1460s. Although rarely mentioned in the vast art-historical literature on the Medici, visual allusions to beheadings in paint, performance and sculpture served a rhetorical function in Florence to describe the shifting political status of Cosimo de'Medici and his family. By outlining a cultural map by which this visual rhetoric of decapitation may be charted in relation to the Medici family, this article contributes yet a further layer of meaning to the Donatello sculptures within the larger context of early Medici patronage and politics and offers a new methodological approach for the investigation of early modern Florentine visual culture.

Keywords: Donatello; Medici; decapitation; political union; visual culture

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1477-4658.2009.00593.x

Affiliations: Bowling Green State University

Publication date: November 1, 2009

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