The Four Davids Essay
The Four Davids
David, who was destined to be the second king of Israel, destroyed the Philistine giant Goliath with stone and a sling. Donatello, Verrocchio, Michelangelo, and Bernini each designed a sculpture of David. However, the sculptures are drastically different from one another. Each one is unique in its own certain way.
Donatello, whose David was the first life-size nude statue since Classical times, struck a balance between Classicism and the realism by presenting a very real image of an Italian peasant boy in the form of a Classical nude figure. Although Donatello was inspired by Classical figures, he did not choose a Greek youth in his prime as a model for his David. Instead, he chooses a barely developed adolescent boy whose arms appeared weak due to the lack of muscles. After defeating Goliath, whose head lies at David’s feet, he rests his sword by his side, almost to heavy to handle. It seems almost impossible that a young boy like David could have accomplished such a task. David himself seems skeptical of his deed as he glances down towards his body. Apparently, David’s intellect, faith and courage made up for his lack of build (Fichner-Rathus 331-332).
Verrocchio, who also designed a sculpture of David, was the most important and imaginative sculptor of the mid-fifteenth century. This figure of the youthful David is one of the most beloved and famous works of its time. In Verrocchio’s David, we see a strong contrast to Donatello’s treatment of the same subject. Although both artists choose to portray David as an adolescent, Verrocchio’s brave man “appears somewhat older and excludes pride and self-confidence rather than a dreamy gaze of disbelief” (Fichner-Rathus 334). Donatello balanced realistic elements with an idealized Classically inspired torso whereas Verrocchio’s goal was absolutely realism in minute details.
The sculptures also differ in terms of technique. Donatello’s David is mainly a closed-form sculpture. The objects and limbs are centered around an S-curve stance, which balanced his human form. Verrocchio’s sculpture is more open. For example, the bared sword and elbow are sticking out, away from the central core. “Donatello’s graceful pose had been replaced in the Verrocchio, by a jaunty contrapposto that enhances David’s image of self-confidence” (Fichner-Rathus 334).
Michelangelo was yet another artist who sculpted David. His reputation as a sculptor was established when he carved his David at the edge of twenty-seven from a single piece of relatively unworkable marble. Unlike the David’s of Donatello and Verrocchio, Michelangelo’s David is not shown after conquering his enemy. Instead, he is portrayed as a “most beautiful animal preparing to kill-not by savagery and brute force, but by intellect and skill” (Fichner-Rathus 345). Cast over his shoulder is David’s sling, and the stone is clutched in his right hand, his veins in chief anticipation of the fight. Michelangelo’s David depicts the ideal youth who has just reached manhood and is capable of great physical and intellectual feats, which is part of the Classical tradition. Michelangelo’s sculpture is closed in form, like Donatello’s David. All the elements move firmly around a central axis (Fichner-Rathus 345).
Finally, there is Bernini’s David, which is notably different from those of Donatello, Verrocchio and Michaelangelo. Bernini emulated neither Donatello’s triumphant boy victor nor Michaelangelo’s posturing adolescent. His hero is full-grown and fully engaged-both physically and psychologically-as he takes aim and twists his tensed, muscular body a split second before slinging the stone, grasped in his left hand. David stands alone, but Goliath is simplicity envisioned directly behind the viewer. As a viewer, we are tempted to duck. It is the anticipation of violent action that heightens this confrontation as David’s latent power is momentarily arrested (Scribner 66).
Present in this sculpture are three of the five characteristics of Baroque art: motion, a different way of looking at space and the introduction of the concept of time. Donatello and Verrocchio depicted David at rest after he killed Goliath, Michaelangelo, by contrast, presented David before the battle, with the tension and emotion evident in every vein and muscle. Bernini does not depict David before or after the fight. Instead, he shows him in the process of the fight. This represents the element of time in his work. The views are forced to complete the action that David has begun for us.
With David’s positioning, a new concept of space comes into play. “No longer does the figure remain still in a Classical contrapposto stance, but rather extends into the surrounding space away from a vertical axis. This movement outward from a central core forces the viewer to take into account both the form and the space between and surrounding the forms-in order to appreciate the complete composition” (Fichner-Rathus 360). In order to understand the sculpture fully, we must move around the work. As we move, the views of the work change drastically.
As you can see, the works sculpted by Donatello, Verrocchio, Michelangelo and Bernini differed drastically. Donatello presented David as a young boy who seemed incapable and amazed at his feat. Verrocchio’s David, although an adolescent, appears somewhat older and has more self-confidence than Donatello’s David. Michelangelo’s David has just reached manhood and is capable of great physical feats, like defeating Goliath. Finally, Bernini’s David is a full grown man. He, like Michelangelo’s David, also appears to be strong, brave and gifted enough to slaughter Goliath.
· Fichner-Rathus, Lois. Understanding Art. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, Inc., 1995.
· Italian Masters. New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1940.
· Meyer, Alfred Gotthold. Donatello. Liepzig: Fischer & Wittig, 1904.
· Scribner, Charles. Gianlorenzo Bernini. New York: H.N. Abrams, Publishers, 1991.