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Sculpture


David

Donatello
bronze
5' tall
c. 1440s (Renaissance)
Bargello Palace, Florence

Subject: This piece depicts a young David standing with his foot on the head of Goliath, who he has just slain. David was a King of Israel according to the Old Testament. He is said to have lived from 1037 to 967 BC. He features in many stories in the Bible, but this sculpture shows him in his younger years. Known to be a skilled musician and virtuous, he is called by King Saul to rid him of an evil spirit which was plaguing him. Whenever David played his lute, King Saul was said to be free of this demon. Later on, when the Israelites are battling the Philistines it is decided that instead of a huge battle with much loss of life on both sides, they will simply pit each side's champion against each other. The giant Goliath is chosen to represent the Philistines. Though King Saul is worried for David's safety, he allows him to enter the fight. With a single stone flung from a slingshot, David defeats the monster. He uses Goliath's own sword to decapitate him, and he brings the head to the King. He gains much respect, and by the age of 30, after Saul's death, he is crowned King of Judah.

The Artists's Work: This statue was commissioned by Cosimo de' Medici, and he displayed it in his courtyard. Though the piece was shown privately it still caused a sensation. Even one glance gives one a fairly good idea why. David is shown nude, and this had not been done since antiquity. Not only is he nude, but the feeling of nakedness is increased by the fact that we wears a a hat and boots, and wields a sword. His hand is placed on his hip, and he is curved in a feminine or flamboyant way. His body and face, while obviously male, have a young and girl-like quality to them. This youthful, delicate depiction is meant to convey a feeling that the battle was won because God was his protection. The sculpture is extremely detailed and the realism likely disturbed some at the time. Clearly a study in human form, the recently transpired battle is not the focal point. Neither is the hidden face. The body is front and center, and many at this time were not ready for such a graphic and honest image. The level of skill required to make such a a realistic study is something that was the only reason such a piece was allowed to exist.

Reaction: When I first saw this piece, I must admit I did think that the figure looked almost like a woman. Once I realized that it was not, I changed to thinking he looked quite homosexual. Even as a very liberal perosn, I was still taken aback. I can only imagine how those at the time of creation must have felt. The head of the slain giant was the last thing I noticed. Though detailed, it certainly did not catch my attention or keep my interest for long. Looking at the piece was a lot to digest. There is something disturbing about a young boy battling like this, and this is only increased by his nakedness. His nakedness, too, is increased in feeling by his hat, boots and sword. I find this off-putting and for this reason my opinion of the piece is largely negative. Though I appreciate the skill it takes to capture such a life-like form, I certainly would not want this piece in my courtyard.