David by Donatello and Michelangelo
When thinking about a triumph over an unimaginable feat, the story of David and Goliath comes to mind. During the Italian Renaissance, Florence was under constant change and turmoil however David remained a consistent symbol of endless possibilities for the people. “For the Florentines, David represented the essence of civic virtue-courage, fortitude, and faith” (Murray, 39). Various artists have revealed their own depictions of the young shepherd boy but two stand out among the masses. Donatello and Michelangelo both created masterpieces on the biblical subject although the approaches of each artist were completely diverse and caused unique reactions.
In 1404, the very powerful Medici family commissioned Donatello to create a bronze statue of David to celebrate the triumph of Florence over the larger, more powerful neighbor Milan. Made to symbolize civic pride and celebration of peace, David is represented as “a calm boy yet triumphant and touched with glory” (Murray 40). The bronze sculpture was the first life sized nude since the Classical period; the first complete visual affirmation of the power and dignity of the human being (Hartt 116). Donatello looked back to the ancient past and did not imitate any works, but instead grew from the knowledge and creativity that had already been discovered. He generated an incomparable style that is seen in the smooth, undefined contours of the body that are very different to the established muscles of Roman sculpture. It is this style that has raised questions about the demeanor of David as he seems to have a “curious sexual aspect” (Greenhalgh 167). There are female attributes to the sculpture, found in the curvilinear pose, the slight bulge of breasts, and the thighs even seem to be too broad to fit the male profile (Greenhalgh 167). Another interpretation of the nakedness and undeveloped male body could be that Donatello is simply accentuating David’s youth and innocence
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