Donatello produced both this sculpture and one of Jeremiah for niches on Giotto’s fourteenth-century bell tower (campanile) adjacent to Florence Cathedral. Once installed, his work became part of a larger programme of sculptural reliefs and statues on the tower, depicting sibyls, prophets, patriarchs, and other Old Testament figures. The statue is heavily weathered, and some have suspected that it was a representation of another prophet like Elisha known to be baldheaded (Rose 1981; see 2 Kings 2:23), but the majority agree is that it is Habakkuk.
The sculpture brings the prophet vividly to life, with bald head, intensely-focused eyes, wide mouth, and parted lips (Coggins & Han 2011: 44). Writing a century after its creation, Giorgio Vasari, the painter and famous artistic biographer, praised the work’s naturalism with superlatives, declaring it ‘more beautiful than anything Donatello had ever done’ (Conaway & Bondanella 1991: 151).
Donatello liked to call it lo Zuccone (meaning ‘the pumpkin-head’ or ‘gourd-head’), probably as a term of endearment. The sculptor apparently regarded it more as a companion than as a lifeless piece of marble. He used to swear by it, saying, ‘By the faith I place in my Zuccone’ (ibid: 151–52). Vasari’s biography also states that while Donatello was working on the statue, the Florentine artist would address it with a stare, ‘Speak, speak, or be damned!’ (ibid), leaving later generations to wonder whether Donatello thought he was speaking to the prophet or to the sculpture he was creating.
Given the prophet’s denunciation of idols that could not speak (Habakkuk 2:19; recalled by Vasari), it seems all the more significant that Donatello gave his statue an open mouth. This is a prophet who spoke the words of the Lord.
It is now housed in the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, while a replica stands as one of the sixteen prophet figures on the Campanile of the Cathedral, looking down on the worshippers who throng the piazza below or who pass in their thousands into the cathedral. Undoubtedly, Donatello gave a thought to the angle and the perspective from which it would have been viewed, and the proportions of the figure are adjusted for the fact that it was to be seen from below and at a distance. Even from afar, the posture of the prophet communicates his passion, as he delivers his urgent prophetic message to the people of God.
I will stand at my watch-post,
and station myself on the rampart. (2:1)
I will stand at my watch-post,
and station myself on the rampart. (2:1)
Coggins, Richard, and Jin H. Han. 2011. Six Minor Prophets Through the Centuries (Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell)
Conaway Bondanella, Julia, and Peter Bondanella (trans.). 1991. Giorgio Vasari: The Lives of the Artists (Oxford: Oxford University Press)
Rose, Patricia. 1981. ‘Bald, Baldness, and the Double Spirit: The Identity of Donatello’s Zuccone’, The Art Bulletin 63.1: 31–41
1 The oracle of God which Habakʹkuk the prophet saw.
2O Lord, how long shall I cry for help,
and thou wilt not hear?
Or cry to thee “Violence!”
and thou wilt not save?
3Why dost thou make me see wrongs
and look upon trouble?
Destruction and violence are before me;
strife and contention arise.
4So the law is slacked
and justice never goes forth.
For the wicked surround the righteous,
so justice goes forth perverted.
5Look among the nations, and see;
wonder and be astounded.
For I am doing a work in your days
that you would not believe if told.
6For lo, I am rousing the Chaldeʹans,
that bitter and hasty nation,
who march through the breadth of the earth,
to seize habitations not their own.
7Dread and terrible are they;
their justice and dignity proceed from themselves.
8Their horses are swifter than leopards,
more fierce than the evening wolves;
their horsemen press proudly on.
Yea, their horsemen come from afar;
they fly like an eagle swift to devour.
9They all come for violence;
terror of them goes before them.
They gather captives like sand.
10At kings they scoff,
and of rulers they make sport.
They laugh at every fortress,
for they heap up earth and take it.
11Then they sweep by like the wind and go on,
guilty men, whose own might is their god!
12Art thou not from everlasting,
O Lord my God, my Holy One?
We shall not die.
O Lord, thou hast ordained them as a judgment;
and thou, O Rock, hast established them for chastisement.
13Thou who art of purer eyes than to behold evil
and canst not look on wrong,
why dost thou look on faithless men,
and art silent when the wicked swallows up
the man more righteous than he?
14For thou makest men like the fish of the sea,
like crawling things that have no ruler.
15He brings all of them up with a hook,
he drags them out with his net,
he gathers them in his seine;
so he rejoices and exults.
16Therefore he sacrifices to his net
and burns incense to his seine;
for by them he lives in luxury,
and his food is rich.
17Is he then to keep on emptying his net,
and mercilessly slaying nations for ever?
2I will take my stand to watch,
and station myself on the tower,
and look forth to see what he will say to me,
and what I will answer concerning my complaint.
2And the Lord answered me:
“Write the vision;
make it plain upon tablets,
so he may run who reads it.
3For still the vision awaits its time;
it hastens to the end—it will not lie.
If it seem slow, wait for it;
it will surely come, it will not delay.
4Behold, he whose soul is not upright in him shall fail,
but the righteous shall live by his faith.
5Moreover, wine is treacherous;
the arrogant man shall not abide.
His greed is as wide as Sheol;
like death he has never enough.
He gathers for himself all nations,
and collects as his own all peoples.”
6Shall not all these take up their taunt against him, in scoffing derision of him, and say,
“Woe to him who heaps up what is not his own—
for how long?—
and loads himself with pledges!”
7Will not your debtors suddenly arise,
and those awake who will make you tremble?
Then you will be booty for them.
8Because you have plundered many nations,
all the remnant of the peoples shall plunder you,
for the blood of men and violence to the earth,
to cities and all who dwell therein.
9Woe to him who gets evil gain for his house,
to set his nest on high,
to be safe from the reach of harm!
10You have devised shame to your house
by cutting off many peoples;
you have forfeited your life.
11For the stone will cry out from the wall,
and the beam from the woodwork respond.
12Woe to him who builds a town with blood,
and founds a city on iniquity!
13Behold, is it not from the Lord of hosts
that peoples labor only for fire,
and nations weary themselves for nought?
14For the earth will be filled
with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord,
as the waters cover the sea.
15Woe to him who makes his neighbors drink
of the cup of his wrath, and makes them drunk,
to gaze on their shame!
16You will be sated with contempt instead of glory.
Drink, yourself, and stagger!
The cup in the Lord’s right hand
will come around to you,
and shame will come upon your glory!
17The violence done to Lebanon will overwhelm you;
the destruction of the beasts will terrify you,
18What profit is an idol
when its maker has shaped it,
a metal image, a teacher of lies?
For the workman trusts in his own creation
when he makes dumb idols!
19Woe to him who says to a wooden thing, Awake;
to a dumb stone, Arise!
Can this give revelation?
Behold, it is overlaid with gold and silver,
and there is no breath at all in it.
20But the Lord is in his holy temple;
let all the earth keep silence before him.