Victoria and Albert Museum: Donatello – Sculpting the Renaissance exhibition

Category: Installation & Exhibitions; Entrant: V&A Design Studio

Arguably the greatest sculptor of all time, Donatello was in the vanguard of a revolution in sculptural practice in the early Renaissance. The exhibition at the V&A in London highlighted Donatello’s exceptional talents within the vibrant cultural context of 15th-century Italy and featured his full range of sculptural works, as well as work by his contemporaries.

A departure from the usual episodic spatial approach within the V&A’s 1000sqm Sainsbury Gallery exhibition space was desired. The creation of a more holistic, open and explorative environment, with priority given to visitor-object interaction, was a key design deliverable. The design approach and strategy aimed to embrace the museum’s ambitions for sustainability and reuse.

In response, six large-scale, lightweight architectural volumes divided the V&A’s Sainsbury Gallery into a series of open piazza spaces inspired by the city vernacular of Florence. Visitors were encouraged to explore a mix of exterior and semi-transparent interior spaces that framed a variety of objects and narratives. Curated vistas and strategically placed windows linked curatorial narratives from different sections, highlighting key objects such as Donatello’s first and last sculpture of David.

A restrained colour palette takes inspiration from Brunelleschi’s use of Pietra Serena sandstone across Florence, and each paint was mixed with a small amount of sand to add texture. The works were arranged as per their original architectural settings, whether in a private room, chapel, cathedral altar or outside, adjacent to or on a building.

The main typeface is designed by Paul Shaw after his extensive research on the Florentine Sans Serif. One of the most successful features of the exhibition was the opening of the Oculus, a skylight in the exhibition space that, for the first time, allowed natural light into the gallery, illuminating Donatello’s Protome Carafa horse head bronze.

Setworks were designed and intended for reuse, featuring large but sparsely placed softwood frames, full widths of sustainable gauze fabrics and concealed stage rigging, all of which can be disassembled and reused on future builds. The designs utilised the museum’s existing showcase stock, creatively cladding and arranging it to display items in set, showpiece groupings.

3D Design: V&A Design Studio
2D Design: Martin McGrath Studio
Lighting Design: Studio ZNA
Exhibition Curators: Peta Motture, Whitney Kerr-Lewis,
Sabrina Villani
Exhibition Film: Zuketa
Exhibition Build: Sam Forster
Exhibition Photography: Thomas Adank