Madonna of the Clouds
Donatello (Italian, 1386–1466)
Object Place: Europe, Florence, Italy
33.1 x 32 cm (13 1/16 x 12 5/8 in.)
Medium or Technique
Italian Renaissance Gallery (Gallery 206)
Marble. Madonna and child with angels, cherubs
Donatello was one of the most innovative sculptors in the history of European sculpture. He carved this image in flattened relief (rilievo schiacciato), a technique, which he invented, in which a sculptor could create the illusion of volumetric forms set into deep, continuous space with the most subtle and shallow carving. The Madonna sits as if on the ground, to convey the idea of humility, but Donatello sets her in the clouds, so she also becomes Queen of Heaven. A feeling of weighty foreboding is expressed in the Madonna’s somber profile, which seems to look into the Christ Child’s tragic future.
By 1902, Quincy Adams Shaw (b. 1825 - d. 1908), Boston [see note 1]; 1917, gift of Quincy Adams Shaw, through Quincy Adams Shaw Jr., and Mrs. Marian Shaw Haughton, to the MFA. (Accession Date: March 29, 1917)
 Exactly when and how Quincy Adams Shaw acquired the relief is not known. Wilhelm von Bode stated that it had been in a church in Rome; see his "Denkmäler der Renaissance-Sculptur Toscanas" (Munich, 1892-1905), text vol., p. 42. However, Georg Swarzenski ("Donatello's 'Madonna in the Clouds' and Fra Bartolommeo," Bulletin of the Museum of Fine Arts, vol. 40, no. 240, August, 1942, p. 68) casts serious doubts upon this hypothesis. It was certainly in his possession by 1902, when Bode published it, in "Florentiner Bildhauer der Renaissance" (Berlin, 1902), pp. 119-120 and p. 200, fig. 87, as in the Shaw collection.
Gift of Quincy Adams Shaw through Quincy Adams Shaw, Jr. and Mrs. Marian Shaw Haughton