Georg Raphael Donner

The Austrian sculptor Georg Raphael Donner (1693-1741) was the first exponent of classicism in 18th-century Austria and the greatest sculptor of the period.

Georg Raphael Donner was born in Esslingen, Lower Austria, on May 24, 1693, the son of a carpenter. After studying with Johann Kaspar Prenner, a goldsmith to the imperial court in Vienna, Donner was apprenticed at the age of 13 to the sculptor Giovanni Giuliani to assist on statuary for the Liechtenstein Palace in Vienna. Donner worked mainly in Vienna and Pressburg (modern Bratislava, Slovakia). His sculptures are largely in marble and bronze, but he early developed a fondness for lead; the soft sheen of the material was well suited to his characteristic smooth modeling, firm outlines, and gracefully elongated figures, based on his obvious study of 16th century Italian sculpture, whose manneristic qualities he blended with classical ideals in a highly individual harmony.

In 1725 Donner worked with his assistants in Salzburg on sculpture for the famous staircase in Mirabell Palace. Donner personally executed the figure Paris (1726). While in Salzburg he also did some work for the local mint, producing ducats with portraits and coats of arms of the prince-Bishop. In 1728 the primate of Hungary, Prince-Bishop Emre Esterhazy, called Donner to his court in Pressburg, where in the Cathedral, he carved the sculpture of the high altar of the chapel of St. Elemosynarius (1732). This chapel also contains the prelate's tomb, for which Donner carved the highly expressive kneeling figure of the primate. He also made the equestrian statue St. Martin and the Beggar for the high altar of the Cathedral (1735), an over-life-sized lead sculpture combining classicistic clarity with touches of realism, for the warrior saint wears an 18th-century hussar's uniform rather than classical dress. The marble statue Emperor Charles VI (1734) reveals the baroque qualities underlying Donner's classicism in the momentary pose of the Emperor.

Donner's most famous work is the Providentia Fountain on the Neue Markt in Vienna. Unveiled in 1739, the lead figures were replaced by bronze copies in 1873, and the originals are now in the Baroque Museum, Vienna. The figures of the four rivers on the fountain are prime examples of his debt to the late Renaissance and of his naturalistic tendencies. He also carved reliefs for the Viennese mint and cast in bronze the Andromeda Fountain in the courtyard of the Vienna city hall (now Altes Rathaus). His last important work is the moving Pietà in the Cathedral of Gurk (1741). Donner died on Feb. 15, 1741, in Vienna, where his pupils and his brother Mathias continued to work in his style until late in the century.


Further Reading on Georg Raphael Donner

Donner's work is discussed in Nicolas Powell, From Baroque to Rococo (1959), and Eberhard Hempel, Baroque Art and Architecture in Central Europe (1965). The only monograph on Donner is in German, C. Blauensteiner, Georg Raphael Donner (1947); it contains excellent photographs.