Vita Gazette

News from Italy

One story, four artists: David and Goliath

by Maria Stella

Scenes from the Bible and the Torah, as well as mythological events and beings, are seen in the works of the Renaissance. “David and Goliath” is one of the famous stories in the holy books. The leading artists of the Renaissance period also produced works on this story.

The Biblical character David has left an indelible mark on art history. His portrayal as a young shepherd boy who triumphed over the giant Goliath with a mere slingshot has captivated audiences for centuries. A valid symbol of the underdog, David represents the latent power within the most unexpected heroes.

The story takes place during the period when the Israelites and Palestinians were at war. Goliath is an invincible warrior approximately 3 meters tall. At that time, David was an adolescent boy carrying food and equipment to the battlefield. Saul, the first king of Israel, announces that he will give his daughter to the one who kills Goliath. Shepherd David visits King Saul and says he wants to fight Goliath. Saul rejects David, saying he is still young and cannot do this job. However, David tells Saul that when encountering a lion or a bear while grazing his flock, he killed them “by the hair on its chin.” Thereupon, Saul allows David to fight.

The king dresses David in armour and gives him a bronze helmet to wear on his head. David’s armour and helmet are too heavy, and he cannot move comfortably. That’s why he immediately removes everything he has on him, grabs a slingshot and five pebbles, and then sets off.

Faced with Goliath, David sees his enemy wearing a thick helmet at his most sensitive point, right in the middle of his forehead. The army’s shields reflect the sun’s heat onto Goliath’s helmet. Goliath’s helmet gets hot, and he finds a solution to remove it.

At this moment, David aims his sling at the middle of Goliath’s forehead, hits him and brings him down. Taking the sword of Goliath, who fell to the ground, David separates the head and body of the enemy. He also takes Goliath’s head to King Saul.

Prophet David, born in Jerusalem, is the greatest king of Israel. He received the Psalms, one of the four holy books. He is also the father of Prophet Solomon.

We read this subject in religious books in different ways in the works of the leading artists of the Renaissance period.

Donatello’s Statue of David in Marble

Donatello, the most influential sculptor of the Early Renaissance, addressed the story of David and Goliath in two different ways. Donatello’s first two sculptures are crafted from marble, and the subject is draped in robes. Dating back to the early days of the artist’s career

The statue, whose construction started in 1408, was carved from marble. David took Goliath’s head under his feet as a sign of victory. No war equipment can be seen in his hand, and he has placed his left hand on his waist with the relief of victory.

Gothic influences are apparent in the style of this statue. The ancient gives David a sense of movement and realism, while his expressionless smile is typical of Gothic artwork. This statue embodies David’s transition from the religious ‘David the Prophet’ to a more human subject: the boy who defeated the giant Goliath.

The statue is 1 meter 91 centimetres tall. In 1416, the administration of Florence decided to display it in the Palazzo Vecchio, the city’s administrative building. Thus, David gained political meaning in the town.

Donatello’s Statue of David in Bronze

This statue of David is also known to be the earliest surviving full-scale nude sculpture from the Renaissance period. It represents ideal beauty. The world-famous bronze statue, commissioned by Cosimo, the Elder of the Medici family, was completed in the 1430s. It was designed to sit outdoors in the courtyard of the Medici Palace and boasts a scratched surface texture.

David, who cut off Goliath’s head, has his foot on the giant on the ground. Standing on Goliath’s head, David looks incredible, as if he can’t believe what he has just achieved. He also seems a little unstable. Donatello never used simple sculpted logs to support his statues physically, as was the norm in Classical sculpture. In this statue, Goliath’s helmet’s wing brushes gently against David’s leg, acting as a support. In keeping with Roman tradition, David almost seems to be standing triumphantly on a cart.

It is made of bronze and is 1 meter 58 centimetres high. The statue, whose body is completely naked, has boots on its feet and a hat with flowers on its head. Unlike the first statue, David’s hair is long and falls on his shoulders.

Again, unlike the first statue, he is holding a sword. The statue has a sword in one hand and a hand positioned on its waist. His facial expression suggests relief at defeating his enemy.

It has a realistic narrative down to the smallest detail. David’s stance and proportions reveal his inner peace.

These two David statues made by Donatello are exhibited in the National Museum of Bargello in Florence.

Verrocchio’s Statue of David in Bronze

 Verrocchio’s statue of David, which dates back to the late 1460s, depicts a youthful warrior. It is the artist’s first bronze statue. Verrocchio’s young David, who stands triumphantly over Goliath, portrays the biblical hero. Often used as a symbol of political freedom, this image of David greatly inspired Florentine art in the late 15th and early 16th centuries. When the statue was restored in 2002, gilding was revealed on the edges of his tunic and shoes, as well as his eyes and hair. The ornament on David’s leather tunic includes pseudo-Kufic letters imitating Arabic script.

In May 1476, the statue of David was sold to the Signoria of the Florentine Republic by Lorenzo and Giuliano de’ Medici. Initially, the statue was placed near the Porta della Catena in the Palazzo Vecchio before being moved to the centre of the palace’s courtyard. There, it replaced Donatello’s statue of David. The statue only stayed in this position for a few years, from 1495 to around 1504, when a lively debate began over where to place the new marble statue of David by Michelangelo. From this, we can assume that Verrocchio’s statue was still in the courtyard. This statue of David is also exhibited in the National Museum of Bargello in Florence.

Michelangelo’s Statue of David in marble

Michelangelo’s statue of David, more than 5 meters tall and almost three times the size of an average human, does not shout, “I am a hero,” but those who look carefully can see that he is holding a stone with his right hand over his left shoulder. This is how David faced the cruel giant Goliath and decided to attack him.

Unlike other David statues, we do not see Goliath in this work. David, with his eyebrows furrowed, his neck tense, his face sullen, and his veins visible, reflects his state when he decided to fight Goliath. He has a sling in his left hand and a stone in his right hand. He is determined and confident. While the right leg carries the body weight, the left leg is in an entirely free stance. David, whose body is turned towards where he is looking, looks like he will take action at any moment.

The head and upper body of the statue are more significant than its lower body. Although some believe this is based on a mannerist narrative, the reason is that the statue was prepared to be placed on a church facade or a high pedestal, and when viewed from such an angle, the proportions will be seen correctly.

The work was made between 1501 and 1504. The statue measures 4.34 x 5.14 with its base. It is one of the ProphetProphet statues given for the Florence Cathedral, but after it was made, it was placed in a square near the Palazzo della Signoria. A copy of the statue, which was later removed from here, stands in its place in the square today. This statue is considered the peak of the Renaissance.

As we learned from the artist Giorgio Vasari, who is described as the first art historian, an artist named Simone da Fiesole began to carve the marble on which David would be carved and cracked the marble. Therefore, it becomes difficult for Michelangelo to work on the sculpture, and Simone da Fiesole’s chisel marks remain on David.

Michelangelo’s David sculpture is exhibited today in the Galleria Dell’accademia in Florence.

Bernini’s Statue of David in marble

Bernini, unlike other David statues, the most crucial sculptor and architect of the Baroque period, portrayed the war moment in the story. The figure, standing like a tense arrow, so to speak, saw its enemy and took action to make its move against him.

 Goliath is not included in the work. The lines for the statue of David are very distinct. David is not naked but in a dense piece of cloth that covers him. His body is flexible, and he is turned towards his enemy. In addition to Bernini’s technical success, the most essential feature that makes the work immortal is the transfer of the details mentioned in the Torah to the sculpture. An excellent example is the shepherd’s purse hanging around David’s neck and the sling he holds in his right hand.

The statue of David’s facial expression is quite harsh and exaggerated. Bernini’s sculptures also exaggerately display emotional states. In this way, the artist reflects human psychology into his sculptures.

 Bernini’s statue of David depicts not only physical but also psychological victory. This David, with his eyebrows furrowed and his lips biting, makes it clear that he aims for absolute victory. Bernini, known for his mastery of light and shadow, made the story told with the help of light and shadow more effective in this work.

The statue is currently exhibited in the Galleria Borghese in Rome.

error: Content is protected !!