The prophet Habakkuk.
 Donatello, 1386?-1466

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Title:The prophet Habakkuk

As one of the most renowned works in sculpture of the Renaissance, Donatello's prophet Habakkuk ushered in a strain of psychological and physical realism. The modeling of the bald, strained, head of the prophet creates a sense of powerful forewarning, appropriate to the scriptural texts. This statue originally stood outside, and Florentines gave it the name, "Il Zuccone," or Pumpkinhead.

The Habakkuk sculpture is an example of Donatello's attempt at "ekphrasis" -- "Ekphrasis has been considered generally to be a rhetorical device in which one medium of art tries to relate to another medium by defining and describing its essence and form, and in doing so, relate more directly to the audience, through its illuminative liveliness. A descriptive work of prose or poetry, a film, or even a photograph may thus highlight through its rhetorical vividness what is happening, or what is shown in, say, any of the visual arts, and in doing so, may enhance the original art and so take on a life of its own through its brilliant description. " [from Wikipedia:]

Kenneth Gross, a scholar whose work, The Dream of the Moving Statue, tackles examples of ekphrasis in the dialogue between literature and fine art. He writes about Donatello's Habakkuk and the artist's attempt to represent the prophet's Biblicalm iconoclastic rhetoric. "Let us first imagine Donatello trying to answer the question, How does one make a statue of an iconoclast? ... How could the statue of an iconoclast face down the fact of being one of those things that "have mouths, but do not speak; / eyes, but do not see / ...ears, but do not hear; / noses, but do not smell" (Ps 115:5-8)? Donatello's to construct a figure whose aspect entails a radical retroping of the merely given wordlessness, blindess, and senselessness of sculpture, a refiguring of the opacity that makes the idol a spiritual threat. It entails a choice of form and feature that radically readjusts our angle of vision on the statue's way of representing life, as well as on its inherent deathliness."

A short essay on the artistic and spiritual meaning of this artwork is available from The Visual Commentary on Scripture,
Date:ca. 1425
Artist:Donatello, 1386?-1466
Building:Opera di S. Maria del Fiore (Florence, Italy). Museo
Object/Function:Sculpture, freestanding

Scripture:Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4
Person as Subject:Habakkuk (Biblical figure)
Lectionary links:CProp22
General Subject:Visual Commentary on Scripture

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Attribution:Donatello, 1386?-1466. The prophet Habakkuk, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. [retrieved May 18, 2024]. Original source:
Record Number:54223 Last Updated: 2021-11-18 18:05:59 Record Created: 2009-02-11 12:04:50
Institution:Vanderbilt University Collection: Art in the Christian Tradition