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Video transcript

we're in the Bargello in florence in an enormous vaulted room this is a building that was used for judicial purposes now it's a museum and it holds Donatella's David one of the most important sculptures of the early Renaissance important because it was the first freestanding nude sculpture since classical antiquity quite an achievement so for a thousand years the Christian West had looked to the soul as the place to focus the body it was seen as a path to corruption and so it was not to be celebrated what we're seeing here is returned to ancient Greece and Rome love of the body it's respect for the body which is so evident it really is Donatello's looked back at ancient Greek and Roman sculpture also for the position that David is standing in the position of contrapposto which is a very relaxed pose where the weight is placed on one leg the other leg is bent and the figure has because of contrapposto has a sense of movement in the Renaissance this figure looked remarkably alive given the way that medieval sculpture had looked for so long it's detached from any kind of figure or group or any kind of architecture and so there really is a sense of autonomy as if this figure could move forward of its own accord the figure is referencing the classical in another way as well in its very material nature this is bronze largely copper with a little bit of tin added to it to give it strength and it's actually hollow it's created through a technique which is known as lost wax casting which the ancient Romans and the ancient Greeks before them had employed and which had been used throughout the medieval period but not at this scale it was just in the early Renaissance that artists are beginning to reexpress cultures that are this large David is very young and it's hard not to see a kind of sensuality in the way that David puts his hand on his hip and looks down and the fact that he's wearing boots and a hat and is otherwise nude there's a kind of errata sysm here and that's especially evident if you look the fact that David is standing on the now severed head of Goliath in fact in his right hand he's holding Goliath own sword which David has used but because he's standing on that head that pushes his leg up one of the wings of the helmet is just riding up the inner thigh perhaps a little too high in fact and so there really is a kind of overt sexuality here and it's so interesting because it's at odds with the civic symbolism of this sculpture this was a sculpture that was really important to the city of Florence and yet it has this very intimate quality to it it was seen in the fourteen 60s in the Medici garden although we're not exactly sure who commissioned it it's likely that it was a Medici so the Medici Palace had a large entranceway and there was a kind of axes that allowed you to see directly into the garden and this would have been visible in the center of it that's right it's really important for us to remember that to the Florentine people this wasn't just King David from the Bible there were all sorts of associations first of all David in the biblical story defeats his enemy even though he's the underdog he defeats his enemy with God's help the Florentine people felt very much identified with David because like David they had defeated their enemy or they this is how they thought they had defeated their enemy the Duke of Milan in the early 15th century with the help of God in fact they felt blessed and chosen by God and the heirs of the ancient Roman Republic and so the subject of David represented Florence the Florentine Republic so Goliath in a sense takes on the role of the Duke of Milan Milan was significantly stronger than Florence which was a mercantile culture as opposed to a military power and Florence was of course a republic whereas Milan was an autocracy that is it had a single ruler well and so David became a symbol of the Florentine Republic and he when looking at the sculpture in the Medici Garden in the 15th century would have understood David as a reference to the liberties and the freedoms that were so cherished by the Florentine people and had been threatened by the Duke of Milan on the other hand you could say that the Medici were usurping the Civic symbolism for themselves in some ways and in fact when the Medici were run out of town this sculpture was actually taken to the Signoria that is to the town hall and made a public sculpture and so there is really the sense of the investment of this culture in this story right and so by having it in the Medici garden appropriating this symbol of the city and all that was great about the city Medici appropriating that for themselves so here in this sculpture is this embodiment of the promises of a long rule David will grow up to became to have been enormous Lee wise and in a sense it was a perfect kind of story for the Medici to put forward as a representation not only of the city but specifically of their own rule within the city right so they're sort of identifying themselves as the city of Florence identifying themselves with youthfulness with King David and with all that's great about the Florentine Republic and although this is a sculpture that's about war the symbols are clearly about David and peace and the Medici and peace David wears a soft hat as opposed to the helmet of war the Goliath where's David has severed glides head with Goliath's own battle hardened sore if you look at that sword closely you can see that there are notches out of it it's been in many many battles David needs to borrow it in order to sever that head but in David's other hand in his left hand he holds a rock presumably the rock that he used in the slingshot to actually fill the Giant in the first place but I think it's interesting that Donatello here a sculptor is actually portraying that rock as in a sense the opposing weapon to the sword that is a material that Donatello as a sculptor often carves he works in marble as often as he does in bronze perhaps more often and so are these in a sense the two weapons of the two cities either of the violence of Milan versus the culture of Florence the iconography all of the meanings David and what that meant to the city of Florence the errata sysm or even the homoerotic art historians are not really sure about all of those meaning for the 15 Florentine people and some art historians have even suggested that the identification of this figure as David is not even completely secure that it could also have been read as mercury and so we see it in a complicated way and it's quite likely that the people of Florence in the 15th century saw it in a complicated way and had multiple readings of it it's an important reminder that our history itself is a process of trying to restore meaning and understand meaning through the lens of time it is after all 600 years old that's right but nevertheless it is one of the great sculptures that really embodies so many of the ideals and so many of the concerns of the 15th century