Comic Art Friday: I’m Donatello you for the last time

You know what has always bugged me about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles?


Not the character Donatello. He’s fine.

His name, however, bugs.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Um… it’s giant, anthropomorphic, sentient, talking turtles. Who are mutants. And ninjas. Who eat pizza. And the thing that bugs you about this is the fact that one of them is named Donatello?

Permit me to explain.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, pencils and inks by Josh Lyman

All four of the TMNT (because I’m not typing that entire phrase more than once today) have names that reference classical Italian artists. More specifically, Raphael, Michelangelo, and Leonardo (generally referred to these days with the geographical modifier da Vinci) form the so-called “Trinity” of the Italian High Renaissance, a 30-to-40-year period beginning in the 1490s — when Leonardo painted his famous Last Supper — and ending with the sacking of Rome in 1527.

These three geniuses helped elevate the art of painting to new heights; their best-known works remain iconic today. All three also excelled in other art forms, including architecture, sculpture, and engineering. In fact, Leonardo may well have been the most broadly talented individual in human history, and Michelangelo might not have been too far behind him. Raphael’s greatness was more narrowly focused, but his creative output was prolific; he also probably trained more painters than any of the other Italian masters, so his legacy extends far beyond his own works.

But you remember the old Sesame Street game, “One of These Things Is Not Like the Others”?

I give you Donatello.

Donatello doesn’t belong in a group with Raphael, Michelangelo, and Leonardo for three reasons.

First, he wasn’t a painter: Donatello was a sculptor.

Second, as an artist, Donatello was a one-trick pony; he wasn’t also an architect or a painter or a poet or an inventor. He was an excellent sculptor, but that was the boundary of his artistic expression. (Not that there’s anything wrong with being really good at just one thing.)

Third, Donatello’s life and career preceded the High Renaissance by many years. He passed on a good quarter-century before this influential time period began, having shuffled off this mortal coil in 1466. In fact, Leonardo da Vinci was a mere teenager when Donatello died, and Michelangelo and Raphael wouldn’t even be born for another couple of decades.

Do you see what I mean? In the TMNT naming convention, Donatello’s an outlier. And not just a minor outlier — he’s in a whole other category altogether. Okay, he was Italian. But there’s where the similarities end.

I wasn’t in the room when Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird chose the designations for their reptilian heroes. Therefore, I’m not sure why they chose the names they did. If I had to guess, the idea of great Italian artists probably landed on the table, and they picked the first four that came to mind. I’m not sure why, instead of Donatello, they didn’t choose a fourth painter who was actually part of the High Renaissance movement — say, Giorgione or Correggio or Titian (okay, I can guess why they didn’t go with Titian, and it has nothing to do with the fact that his later career extended well beyond the period in question).

But it would have made more sense if they had.

Today’s artwork featuring the TMNT was drawn by Josh Lyman — the comic artist, not Bradley Whitford’s character from The West Wing. I picked it up in an auction sponsored by the Inkwell Awards, a worthy nonprofit organization (headed by comics inker Bob Almond) that seeks to promote appreciation for and understanding of inkers and their unique craft.

For the benefit of those who can’t tell their Turtles without a scorecard (or without color; the TMNT can usually be identified by the color of their accoutrements), clockwise from the top, we have Michelangelo (with the nunchaku), Leonardo (with the swords, or ninjato), Raphael (with the sai), and Donatello (with the bo staff).

Maybe I’ll start calling that last guy Titian, just to be historically accurate. I don’t care if the fanboys snicker.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

Explore posts in the same categories: Comic Art Friday, Hero of the Day, SwanStuff, That's Cool!

2 Comments on “Comic Art Friday: I’m Donatello you for the last time”

  1. Bob Almond Says:

    Thanks for the financial support, old friend!

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