Bernini’s and Michelangelo’s David
Bernini and Michelangelo sculptured David’s version in two different eras. While Michelangelo was an artist of the high renaissance, Bernini was an Italian Baroque-era artist. It is evident that their depiction of David had different styles and expression of culture, but they also had similarities in some aspects of art. The paper will compare and contrast the Bernini’ and Michelangelo’ David based on the styles, time, symbolism and posture. Michelangelo captured David before the fight while Bernini depicted David in the action of the fight.
One of the significant difference between the two artist’s depiction of David is stages. Michelangelo illustrates David before the fight. The viewers can see the nude sculpture of David standing firmly while his left-hand holds the sling over his shoulder (Olszewski 120). In a contrapposto posture, the bulk of David’s weight rests on his right leg while his right hands rest on the right thigh and cups something – most likely a stone – to be used in the fight against Goliath. By presenting David in a contrapposto, Michelangelo seems to emulate fellow artists during the high Renaissance period, which produced statutes such as Doryphoros. Rothbart and Lindgren (32) affirmed that contrapposto pose implied a sense of a typical action and possibility of movement. Analysis of the posture can reveal that David’s head is tilted towards left and gazing in distance to an enemy only visible to him. Michelangelo also displayed emotion on his art by capturing anger, which seems to caution the viewer that David seemingly expected a fight.
Interestingly, Bernini seems to have continued the story where Michelangelo left it – during the fight. Bernini depicts David in action holding a sling in both his hands while his body is twisted around. The Viewers can preempt that David is ready to strike his enemy (Goliath) with the flying stone into his forehead. In contrast to Michelangelo’s nude David, Bernini’s David is wrapped in a loincloth. The audience can also see a pouch hanging on his other side probably holding stones. David’s toes of the right foot firm grip the rock, making him stand firmly on the stone. Bernini presented the sculpture in a manner that gives dual perspective. For instance, the right side portrays David’s movement with his stride almost a leap as well as aiming his sling. However, front view shows a froze pose few minutes before the actual shot. Still, diagonal view of the sculpture gives a rhythmic balance of the quick movement and firm pose.
Another difference is the human forms that Michelangelo and Bernini portray in their sculptures. Michelangelo’s David presents the unrealistic human form, which is flawless. In much humans aspire to be great, but we know that it is very unrealistic to achieve perfection when it comes to appearance. In Michelangelo’s David, the body is relaxed in a powerful form thereby implying a sense of pride. Michelangelo’s intention to give David potential energy is apparent in the lustrous and warm flesh of the sculpture. For instance, David’s chest is just as strong based on what modern day language calls six-pack body. Michelangelo used David as a vessel showing human perfection in the form of the body. However, Bernini was interested in telling a story and luring the viewers to conclude themselves about the next action of David. From the center of Bernini’s sculpture allow the viewers to see the muscles, the busy posture of the legs and grimacing brow. It quickly triggers the viewers to imagine what David is looking and mining for. In short, Bernini preferred to involve the audience in the action of his sculpture.
David’s sculpture was not only for decoration but also for symbolism. Society during that time had much meaning in sculptures for symbols in arts. Bernini’s David has a half-covered harp at the feet of David. From history, David was a musician, and that harp symbolizes his musical ability, which he put on hold to fight Goliath. That was also a form of sacrifice David made for his people by putting his musical talent on hold to face the enemy. Additionally, we see the harp having an eagle’s head, which symbolizes the Borghese family. The face of David in Bernini’s sculpture is Bernini’s head. It was a symbol of Bernini facing other artists for fame because the art field. Indeed, he succeeded in creating a niche for himself, which made him celebrated artist (Posèq 15-17). David and Bernini had similarities as displayed in the Bernini’s David in that they were both young at the time of fighting and the beginning of their careers. Bernini uses the stone to create a sculpture and a mark of superiority in the art field. Similar, David uses a stone to defeat Goliath to show that he is the king and can lead his people in a war. In short, Both the Bernini’s David tells a story of David and Bernini in parallel. On the contrary, Michelangelo’s David has less symbolism compared to Bernini’s because it represents Florence City and Medici family. Five years before the sculptures commissioning, Medici family was ousted, which symbolized David’s defeat of Goliath.
Despite having striking differences, Bernini’s and Michelangelo’s David had similarities as well. Most characteristics in both David’s sculptures share both contrapposto stance and elements of naturalism from the Renaissance and Baroque eras. For instance, Michelangelo’s statue shows David in balance rhythm, which indicates that is grounded on both sides despite using a contrapposto stance. The audience can see Michelangelo’s skills in creating calm David with his arm bent on the lift, but balancing the entire body. Bernini’s David I unbalanced and invited the viewer to find out more about the story. In a way, the early Renaissance influenced Baroque period art. For instance, Bernini’s David completes the story of what Michelangelo’s David started by depicting David in the action of the fight rather than expecting the fight. Additionally, Baroque art embraced decency by minimizing the nude art as described in Bernini’s covered David.
Another similarity is that Both Michelangelo’s and Bernini’s David sculptures depicted an ideal ‘god-like’ human form of a man. In both, David is a strong character either confidently waiting a fight with Goliath or defiantly fighting him. The calm manner in which Michelangelo portray David implies that he was not afraid of the impending fight, and his perfect physique was confirmation of his strong energy. Bernini uses the same tone in his sculpture by displaying David fighting strongly against the enemy. In both David’s, the viewers can see a lot of lines stressing the muscles, veins, and bodies. Additionally, we can see the emotion on the face of the two David’s. For instance, Bernini’s piece shows David biting his lips and tension in his face, which signifies his effort and hard work in the fight. In a similar note, Michelangelo’s David display anger and confidence – maybe for the impending fight. In short, both Michelangelo and Bernini depict David as a strong person – god-like human form, but also their emotions as humans.
In summary, Bernini’s and Michelangelo’s David statue draw a lot of similarities in portraying David as a strong god-like character. Similarly, both of them depicts emotions of David as good symbolism in creating the meaning of the two sculptures. However, Bernini and Michelangelo differ in the way they present energy, action, and movement of David. While Michelangelo concentrates on using David a medium of showing human perfection, Bernini focused on drawing strong viewer involvement with his sculpture. Importantly, Bernini represented the Baroque era while Michelangelo depicted human form in the Renaissance period.
- Olszewski, Edward J. “Michelangelo’s David: Full Frontal Nudity in the Age of Savonarola.” Source: Notes in the History of Art 35.12 (2016): 118-125.
- Posèq, A. W. (1990). Bernini’s Self-Portraits as David. Source: Notes in the History of Art, 9(4), 14-22.
- Rothbart, Ashley, and Claire Lindgren. “A Figure Study: Depictions of King David in Renaissance and Baroque Art.” (2013), P.31
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