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Bernini, David

By Dr. Steven Zucker and Dr. Beth Harris
Gian Lorenzo Bernini, David, 1623–24, marble, 170 cm high (Galleria Borghese, Rome; photo: Steven Zucker, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)


Bernini's David is like a major league pitcher winding up to throw a 95 miles an hour fastball. The pitcher gathers all of his strength for each pitch and puts everything he has into it.
Baroque art wants us to be able to relate to the image in our bodies, not just in our minds. Bernini's David uses the space around it—reaching out into the space of the viewer (our space!). Bernini's David is not content—the way Michelangelo's David is—to remain separate from us. When looking at Bernini's David, we immediately start to feel what David is feeling. This sympathy is very important to Baroque art.


In the High Renaissance we saw the composition in the form of a pyramid—a very stable shape. But in the Baroque era we see compositions in the shape of diagonal lines, as in Bernini's David.The diagonal line immediately suggests movement and energy and drama—very different from the immobility of the pyramid shape.
Left: Donatello, David, c. 1440s, bronze, 158 cm (Bargello, Florence; photo: Steven Zucker, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0); right: Michelangelo, David, 1501–04, marble, 518 cm (Galleria dell’Accademia, Florence; photo: Steven Zucker, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Three Davids

Donatello shows us an early moment in the Renaissance—the beginnings of humanism when artists were first discovering contrapposto and the beauty of ancient Greek and Roman sculpture. His young figure of David symbolizes the Republic of Florence, which saw itself—like David—as blessed by God. Donatello shows David victorious standing on the head of Goliath.
Michelangelo's David is ideally beautiful. David contemplates his upcoming fight with Goliath, staring at his foe. Bernini shows us a less ideal, and more real David—one who, with God's help, is actively fighting Goliath (perhaps the way the church itself felt as they were battling against Luther).
Gian Lorenzo Bernini, David (detail), 1623–24, marble, 170 cm high (Galleria Borghese, Rome; photo: Steven Zucker, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

The path to God

Michelangelo seems to be asking us to sit and contemplate the incredible beauty of David, and through contemplating beauty (the beauty of man, God's greatest creation), we come to know God. On the other hand, there is no time for contemplation with Bernini's David, there is only time for ducking out of the way—our reaction is in our bodies, not in our minds.
The path to God in the Baroque era is more direct, more emotional, more bodily, and that of course relates to the embattled position of the Church, which felt as though it needed to appeal directly to the faithful.
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  • old spice man green style avatar for user CielAllen08
    Donatello's David's helmet looks a lot more like a flower hat then a helmet and that's the first thing that comes to my mind when I look at Donatello's David,does anybody else think the same way?
    (7 votes)
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    • blobby green style avatar for user gutagh
      The garland on top of the helmet could mean several things, Cesar wore a garland on his his in his paintings as a sign of power and rank. In Heraldry a wreath of leaves on top of the helmet symbolizes "patriotism in defense of one's homeland" (https://www.fleurdelis.com/symbolism.htm). Most likely however the wreath is a symbol of victory and celebration. David is wearing one to further accentuate his defeat of Goliath. it was also not uncommon to portray youth with more effeminate looks in that time David is not yet a full man when he fights Goliath. The "Queer Theory" may be possible, but both popular opinion and the church were violently opposed to homosexuality at the time. while i'm sure there were some around, they couldn't (at this time period) publicly express it without being openly and generally persecuted.
      (4 votes)
  • piceratops tree style avatar for user Mary Frank
    Given that the pyramid structure of the High Renaissance was more structurally sound and stable, how did the Baroque artists address this challenge of structural stability when creating diagonal lines in their sculptures?
    (4 votes)
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    • blobby green style avatar for user gutagh
      look for hidden sub pyramids in the structure. in this particular sculpture David is standing on a diagonal but his loincloth is touching a breastplate sitting firmly on the ground. remember that that sash is made of stone creating a sort of pillar. so the ankles and legs of the statue don't need to carry so much weight. the stone itself is actually quite strong. the characters may be diagonal but keep an eye out for hidden structural reinforcements or outright open ones like the bed in the Ecstasy of Saint Teresa.
      (5 votes)
  • blobby green style avatar for user Anmolpreetbrar123
    who commissioned Bernini's David and why ?
    (1 vote)
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    • aqualine tree style avatar for user David Alexander
      Between 1618 and 1625 Bernini was commissioned to undertake various sculptural work for the villa of one of his patrons, Cardinal Scipione Borghese.[2] In 1623 – only yet 24 years old – he was working on the sculpture of Apollo and Daphne, when, for unknown reasons, he abandoned this project to start work on the David. According to records of payment, Bernini had started on the sculpture by mid–1623, and his contemporary biographer, Filippo Baldinucci, states that he finished it in seven months.[3]

      David was Scipione Borghese's last commission for Bernini. Even before it was finished, Bernini's friend and protector Maffeo Barberini was elected pope, as Pope Urban VIII.[4]
      (4 votes)
  • blobby green style avatar for user Anmolpreetbrar123
    Where Bernini's David originally placed and What is it's current location?
    (1 vote)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user cheery.reaper15
    Re: Bernini, Pluto and Proserpina. At Dr Zucker explains that the sculpture was meant to be viewed from the front. Was Bernini's David sculptured to be seen from all angles?
    (1 vote)
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  • hopper jumping style avatar for user Yewon Kim
    Why are all the statues all nakid? When you look at Greek pictures also, they are all nakid. Why is it?
    (0 votes)
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    • blobby green style avatar for user beatriz costa
      Hi, they talk about that in the series of classical sculpture,i don't remember in witch video in particular... i think is the discobolus... basically it's because ancient greeks and romans were humanists. They consider the human being and his body to be perfect, they adore the mathematical proportions of it and the things that it's able to perform. You see that in the importance that sport had in those cultures (being in the origin of the olympic games) . Then in the renaissance they brought back those ideals and the baroque was a kind of evolution from the renaissance style , so the traditions was kept.
      (4 votes)
  • female robot ada style avatar for user Z. A. de Bruyn
    "I fought this giant in nothing but a helmet and greaves." - this is what Donatello's David is telling me.

    In all seriousness, I don't understand the inclusion of greaves and helmet on an otherwise naked figure. The choice seems... strange, to me. Is there a reason for these particular articles to be included?
    (1 vote)
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