David was a young shepherd boy in the
Bible who tended sheep for his father. When a huge giant threatened his people,
the Israelites, young David agreed to fight him after his elder brothers
refused. He became well-known after slaying the Philistine Goliath with a
simple slingshot and five small stones. Subsequently, David became a symbol of
heroism and the phrase “David and Goliath” denotes a battle or contest where a
smaller, weaker opponent faces a stronger adversary and wins. David later
becomes King of the Israelites and reigns for over 40 years. With David’s
popularity and stardom, he became very prominent in Renaissance artwork and has
become one of the most favored art figures in the world. Many families desired and
commissioned statutes of him for their art collections during the Renaissance,
including the Medici family, who commissioned accomplished artists Donatello
and Verrocchio to produce sculptures. Large sculptures of David were important
elements in Renaissance art and played a key role in the growth of artistic Renaissance
culture in Florence.
paper will examine how the figure of David and its representation to the people
of Florence during the Renaissance were integral to the art culture. The people
of Florence informally adopted David as a symbol
of their city and took pride in their ability to survive in a world of major
powers. This story from the Bible parallels with David as the underdog who beat
the giant. David became very popular during the Italian Renaissance, which was the
period of artistic and social innovation during the 14th to16th
centuries. The city had informally adopted the Biblical hero David for its
icon. As a result, Florence commissioned several statues of David, but two especially
stand out for their importance and mastery. The Medici family’s interest in the sculptures of David shows
strength in the foundation of politics. By comparing and contrasting the
sculptures of the two Davids of Donatello and Verrocchio, I will relate the
artistic portrayal of David with the issues of Florence during the Renaissance.
Florence’s Identification with David. Many question why sculptures of David are so prevalent in
Renaissance Florence. It may be because David represented the aspirations of
the Florentine Republic in its desire for victory, leadership, and brilliance. Or
it may be that David’s artwork represents a promise that Florence will
defend itself and emerge victorious. To those in Florence,
David represents the underdog as he emerges to ultimate championship. During this
time period, Florence, an independent republic, frequently clashed with Rome
and other major powers like Rome (Renaissance, 2017). Donatello’s bronzed David was the
first to be sculpted with work commencing in the 1430 by Cosimo De Medici. Verrocchio’s
David was also commissioned by the Medici brothers, Lorenzo and Giuliano, and
work began in 1473 taking two years to complete.
The Medici Family. The
Medici Family was one of Europe’s wealthiest families and had great political
power. The Medici’s had elevated themselves in the position as leaders and
protectors of Florence. Their decision to commission this David reflects their
pride in Florence and their desire to use their wealth to reflect the opulence
of Florence. Donatello’s use of Classical styles created a strong parallel
between the ancient Roman Republic and the Republic of Florence, two cities
characterized by a system of government that protected the people from abuses
of power. During
the Renaissance period, they were great supporters and funders of the art,
along with many other wealthy families.
As patrons of the arts in Florence,
the Medici Family was one of the most influential. There were three brothers in
the Medici Family: Giovanni, Cosimo the Elder,
and Lorenzo the Magnificent (Finnan). Giovanni was a wealthy banker and the
first of the Medici family to be a patron of the arts. Because he had money, he
was able to commission artists to product great artwork. During that time,
artists had to receive advance payments before they began work on their art
pieces. Cosimo the Elder was involved in the politics of Florence. He has
commission artwork of well-known artists, especially Donatello. Lorenzo the
Magnificent was also a very influential person during the Golden Age of the
Renaissance. He too commissioned artwork from well-known artists of the time.
Michelangelo actually lived with his family for many years.
The Political Climate during the Renaissance. During the Renaissance, there was a
definite synergism between the arts and politics. As the field of the arts grew
and became more sophisticated, wealthy patrons were more than eager to provide
the needed funding for these lavish sculptures and painting. Renaissance
Florence had many influential men who were eager to fund the new artwork that
was emerging. Though they entered the field of polities, these men had little political
experience (“Humanity Blossomed
During the Renaissance, n.d.). As the politics and bureaucracies of Italy and
the rest of Europe became more sophisticated, there was a new demand for
highly educated humanists to fill the available positions. As a result, there
was a new class of political and economic needs.
In addition, the merchants became
wealthier because of their trade involvement. This new mercantile class created
a need for new experienced, individuals to manage their newfound wealth.
Additional economic development and social growth occurred. As the Renaissance
spread, the church and other European rulers used their financial wealth to manage
the new artistic styles seen in the area. The demand from the elites was
both artistic and political. Machiavelli’s guide
for rulers, “The Prince, was a guide for the Renaissance political theory of
the Renaissance. (“Humanity Blossomed During the Renaissance, n.d.).
the framework of these issues, the Medici Family commissioned two well-known
contemporary sculptors to produce artwork of the magnificent David. Because of
the distinct styles of these sculptors, there would be two Davids of separate
distinction. One would be crafted by Donatello; the other by Verrocchio.
Sculptor. Donato di Niccolò di Betto
Bardi, better known as Donatello, was born in 1836. His training came when he worked in Lorenzo
Ghiberti’s workshop. His marble statue of David is the earliest work that can be
attributed to him. However, it shows Ghiberti’s influence on his art style,
though Donatella soon developed a powerful style of his own (Snell). By 1423,
Donatello mastered bronze sculptor techniques. He was commissioned to create a
bronze statue of David in about 1430. The David is the first large-scale,
free-standing nude bronze statue of the Renaissance and is one of the greatest
sculptural works of the early Renaissance “The Three Davids, the Same Subject
by Three Great Artists ,” n.d.).With his
nude sculpture in the round figure of David, this style returned to the
Donatello’s initial reputation was for
his marble sculptors. Once he became established, however, he started working
in bronze. Bronze is a modeling type of material, which applies a different
method than the subtraction of marble. The piece is made from a difficult
technique known as bronze casting which required a lot of equipment, expertise,
and money during that time. It has been noted that the sculptor of David was
the first artistic piece which revitalized the emergence of Renaissance art in
Italy (“The David.” The David’s
of Donatello, Verrocchio and Michelangelo, n.d.).
The central theme of Donatello’s
David is heroism, in which he portrays the figure in the “Renaissance style of
triumph, pride and elegance”. As we know, David was notorious because he killed
Goliath the giant using a small sling and stone. In this particular statue,
Donatello created the moment after the killing had taken place. Though David
was brave and strong with his action of killing Goliath, the statue appears ambiguous
in its representation. This concept is reinforced by the way the young David is
shown in a classic, feminine pose called cotrapposto,
a pre-dominant S curved pose where a figure stands with one leg bearing its
full weight and the other leg relaxed, which causes the figure’s hips and
shoulders to rest at opposite angles (“What is ‘Contrapposto’ in Art? Here’s an
Explanation of Classical Contrapposto,” 2017). While bearing feminine qualities,
his masculinity is reinforced by David holding Goliath’s sword in a gesture of physicality.
In sculptural tradition, a statue as ambiguous and flamboyant as this had not
been seen before. Of note also was the smooth, sleek, and thin portrayal of
David, which creates a sense of femininity. Donatella positioned the sculptor
of Dave with other items that portrayed him to be slight in stature as a simple
shepherd boy with knee high boots and a designed shepherd boy hat which covered
his long wavy hair.
Verrocchio the Sculptor. Verrocchio’s full name was Andrea del Verrocchio. His father was a brick and tile
maker which influenced and helped his learning and work. The Italian sculptor and painter was born in
1435 in Florence. He created some of the most powerful monumental bronze
sculptures of the Renaissance, There is no information about his early
training, but he created some of the most famous bronze sculptures of his time.
In 1473 Verrocchio was commissioned by the Medici brothers, Lorenzo and
Giuliano, for a David sculpture that would be
placed in their garden. Though the Medici Family already had commissioned
Donatello’s David, they commissioned Verrocchio to do another one because they
found in David a symbol of their power. It seems Verrocchio used Donatello’s sculpture
as a source of inspiration, though Verrocchio portrayed David quite differently.
He showed him as this biblical hero who was a strong and vigorous warrior. The
bronzing method used to make Verrocchio’s David complements this idea of
strength because the light and shade of the bronze gives the statue the essence
of actual space and magnificent grandeur.
Verrocchio chose to
present David as a young, arrogant man very confident of his actions. He
portrayed Goliath’s head at David’s foot, which Donatella did not do.
Verrocchio shows a mocking, provocative expression on David’s face. Even his
posture illustrates confidence as if he was the star of a photo. However, Verrocchio’s
David most represents the young shepherd as seen in the Holy Bible. Verrocchio
has David wearing a light cloth, not nude. This wearing of clothes is different
from Donatello or Michelangelo statues.
centuries, Verrocchio’s David has been compared to Donatella’s David. That is
why there is a comparison of the Two Bronze Davids. Through their sculptors, viewers
have the opportunity to visualize the life of King David in diverse
representations during the Renaissance period (Rothbart). Examining the two
different statues of David and how two artists chose to portray him in, it
is interesting and find out why each artist chose to do this and how their
designs were interlinked with Florence’s political issues of time. Due to their
wealth, the Medici Family was able to control the artwork of the time and paid
high commissions to Donatella and Verrocchio. Because Florence was trying to
position itself as a victorious city, David was an icon of this representation.
Life during the Medici rule would of course mean that statues of the likes of
these were sure to create some controversy. However, the two statues are
celebrated by art historians and general art admirers for their amazing
techniques as well as their role in Florence in the Renaissance.