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Three Davids

We haven’t compared pieces lately so this week we’ll contrast three sculptures that draw on the Biblical story of David’s fight with the Philistine Goliath. We’re looking at works by Donatello (1440s), Michelangelo (1504) and Bernini (1624). I’ll take them in order of the story’s chronology rather than the order of when they were sculpted. Since I imagine most people know the basic outline of the story, I’ll get straight to the sculptures.

Michelangelo set his David just prior to the conflict. If you remember, David

was in way over his head. He was physically outmatched but fearless and supremely confident in the run up to the fight. That confidence really stands out in this

sculpture. Every muscle is tense. His gaze is fixed, and he is resolute, calm and composed. He’s reminiscent of an imposing Roman column, with a determined aura that almost makes the air around him stand still. So why he was carved without a more robust manhood is beyond me.

Bernini sculpted his David in the act of throwing the fatal stone. This piece is all about movement and action rather than serene stillness. Take a second to focus on the space around David and see how it feels. The torsion of his body is so effectively done that the space around him comes to life. And, combined with that determined face, I think twice about standing in front of him so I’m not hit with the stone myself. Bernini gave us an impressive level of engagement with a slab of marble.

Donatello’s David is a bronze casting of the scene after David’s victory and it’s a great blend of contrasts. Start with the stance. He’s striking a pretty suave pose considering he’s standing over a decapitated head. He’s a delicate, gentle, maybe effeminate figure pressing his foot down on a dead man’s face. And he’s apparently running his toes through Goliath’s beard. That’s a grotesque juxtaposition. It’s made even stranger by that huge wing on Goliath’s helmet. You can’t really see it from my photo, but it reaches high enough up David’s leg that he’s close to a little thrill if it feathers his groin. (Wikipedia has a good angle for you to see it). There are just some really interesting images combined in this guy.

I guess I should declare a favorite of the three but I’m not going to do that. Each one has its own inspiring qualities. Each can be equally liked for different reasons and as representative of different eras. But if you have your own ranking, please share!

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