Donatello’s bronze statue of David was created during the Italian Renaissance around 1440. It depicts the young man, David after his defeat over Goliath. One of the Bible’s most popular stories.
Donatello caused quite a stir with his artwork as something so bold had not been seen like this. His work was the first free standing statue to be created.
It is a rather troubling piece compared to the later version by Michelangelo. Donatello’s bronze figure is of a very young male, maybe only just a teenager. In an era when sexualisation was not something to present openly, it is a controversial piece. It is hard to know whether Donatello’s intentions were innocent or not. It was know that the statue of David was actually moulded on a real life young boy. I feel this is clearly obvious when you look at the figure. The long spindly arms and legs, devoid of any mature muscular development. The protruding belly accompanied by an immature and casual stance. Even though David is supposed to be seen as a hero, Donatello’s version lacks heroism and the maturity needed to make it believable.
The following segment makes a good argument regarding the young status of Donatello’s statue and what it may be conveying:
Jones, Jonathon 2013, The Loves of the Artists:Art and Passion in the Renaissance
“……That foot is clad in an opened-toed boot that rises just below his knee. David’s boots are gratuitous and provocative, like modern day erotic underwear, designed to draw attention to the flesh – to toes that peep out, knees that emerge recklessly. He also wears a flamboyant hat, which compliments his long falling hair. The large sword in his hand profoundly phallic…….all seem closely matter-of-factly observed from life even as he adopts the pose of a hero.”
All the attributes suggest a very young male but appear to be presented to the viewer in a subtle but sexualised way. It is probably as perversely controversial now as it was then.
Personally I feel David is portrayed in a very feminine way and lacks any heroic character that you would picture David from the Bible possessing. It has a very camp feel about it and suggests a hint of homo-eroticism.
I can appreciate the uniqueness of Donatello’s creation at a time when Art was really beginning to take fruition. However, when I compare it to that of Michelangelo’s David, in comparison, which was created about half a century later, I see the epitome of a man.
Muscular, well built and beautifully in proportion. A stern and serious face, a total contrast to Donatello’s.
In a time when nudity in reference to sex was deplored and also punishable – especially by the church – Donatello made a brave move and pushed art to a new level paving the way for a new era of art. He really did push the boundaries and his bronze creation was the first to move art into the Renaissance.