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Renaissance Top 48: David (Donatello)


Donatello, David, late 1420s-late1450s. Bronze 5' 2" high. Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence.


Sometime in the mid-1400s, The Medici Family of Florence deemed Donatello qualified for commission of the family’s art.  Created for Palazzo Medici, this statue was first displayed in his courtyard, making it the first freestanding nude sculpture since ancient times.  Before this piece was created, most still believed that nudity should not be used in majestic and beautiful context, or to represent gods, heroes or athletes.  However, this David sculpture brings back the heroic sense of nudity from classical times since it depicts David after his victory over Goliath.  The representation of David in their courtyard suggests that the Medici’s believed that they were responsible for Florence’s prosperity and freedom.


This sculpture depicts the biblical David in a pose after his improbable triumph over Goliath.  According to the story, David first struck Goliath with a stone from his slingshot and then decapitated him with Goliath’s sword, which he is holding in the statue.  In his contrapposto pose, David has one foot atop Goliath’s head to further symbolize his victory; however he has a calm expression on his face which could be a representation of idealism in the story.  He wears nothing but boots and a Shepard’s hat, which brought back to classical interpretation of the nude sculpture.  Also, unlike most other interpretations of biblical David at the time, he is represented in is early life, rather than in his later life as a king.  It seems that Donatello is trying to relate David’s youth with innocence and virtue.  David looks very young in the sculpture, so young to the point where his muscles have barely developed enough to hold Goliath’s large sword.  This makes the viewer believe that David’s success was even more improbable.  By portraying David as an undeveloped youth, he could be suggesting that his victory could not been achieved without divine intervention; he could be stating that the victory was not by man, but by god.



This bronze statue is sculpted in the round and is five feet and two inches high.  This interpretation of David shows him as a young man with a skinny, smooth sculpted body.  The line is smooth showing much detail throughout much of the piece.  Having a very smooth texture and dark bronze color, Donatello took much detail in creating the line and shape of the piece.  This detail causes the light to make shadows on the piece giving a realistic perspective.  In the sculpture David is shown standing in contrapposto composition with his left side bent and right side straightened.


The function of this piece was for the display in and decoration of Palazzo Medici’s courtyard.  Also, it could show that the Medici’s believed that they were responsible for the prosperity of Florence because an earlier sculpture of David was a symbol of Florence during a time of war.