Donatello was a prolific sculptor, and his works allow us an insight into the state of sculpture in the middle of the fifteenth century. During the medieval age, sculptural projects were often seen as simple extensions of architecture, and like much of the painting at the time, emphasis was placed on legibility and decoration over naturalism – which was seen as a vain attempt to duplicate the perfection of God.
But with the rekindled interest in the humanism and natural world, sculpture began to move back toward a more naturalistic, three-dimensional format. One of Donatello’s most important works is the bronze sculpture of David of c. 1432. Created with the intention of being seen from all sides, this figure is liberated from the confines of past decorum. In this work, the swinging of the hip – the so-called “contrapposto” engages one leg while resting the other, and it gives the impression of deliberate confidence and grace.
This pose was obviously inspired by the Doryphorus ¬– The Spear Bearer, the sculpture by Polyclitus in which the idealization of the human form was brought to new level. The reference to antiquity is also a signifier that Donatello’s David was a true example of Renaissance concept of art. There is an obvious manifestation of the human figure implicit within this work; its convincing gesture and sensuous modeling produces a dynamic image of young virility and heroic defiance.
It is also difficult to miss the rather provocative sexuality in this piece because the youth’s nakedness is accentuated by helmet and boots, and perhaps Donatello intended the naked body to have sexual overtones; it neatly parallels the steady decline of medieval prudery in favor of the body as the center of consciousness. Accentuating the beauty of human body, being inspired by the antiquity and presenting a natural image of a man, the sculpture of David explicitly epitomize the Renaissance sensibility in its grandest and most inspired form. Reference: David, c. 1425-1430, by Donatello; Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence