Get yourself a coffee and make yourself comfortable because reading this article you will witness one of the most heated and fierce challenges in history! I’m talking about the challenge between two works of art, two sculptures that are certainly among the most famous in Italy… and in the world! DAVID versus… DAVID. No mistakes! I am referring to Michelangelo’s David and Donatello’s David, both of which are in Florence. Reading this article you will learn the origin of the statues, what they have in common and their differences.
Who is David?
As the name itself says, the two sculptures represent the same subject, David, protagonist of the biblical clash against Goliath. According to the story told by the Bible, the events of young David date back to the Jewish era. The young man is described with an ambivalent character: cruel and at the same time generous. He is bold and fearless, but can recognize his own limitations and errors. The story tells that Goliath, a giant at the service of the Philistines, feared and challenged the Jews. David confronts Goliath without armor, armed only with a slingshot and a few stones. The giant, in fact, mocks the boy, but he manages to defeat and kill him. This hero embodies the victory of reason over brute force and irrationality.
Apart from this unique resemblance, the two sculptures have clear differences! We will analyze them together and then I will tell you our favorite…do not forget to write in the comments which you like best!
David made by Donatello – identity card
The David by Donatello was made around 1440, so it is the oldest. It was commissioned for the courtyard of Palazzo Medici by Cosimo de’ Medici. The sculpture is in bronze and is 158 cm high.
Donatello represents David as a simple, modest, humble teenager, therefore real. His body is frail, but harmonious and light and you can sense the pride felt by the boy. He is depicted naked, without armor, with long, loose hair. He wears only a pointed hat decorated with a laurel wreath (which was called Petaso and was worn by the shepherds) and shoes that reach up to the knee. In his left hand he holds the stone with which he just hit the giant Goliath; in his right hand, however, he has a sword. Beneath his feet is Goliath’s decapitated head.
Donatello is inspired by the compositions of Praxiteles, an ancient Greek sculptor. The artist represents all the power of David but in a very naturalistic way, the expression of pride and superiority in fact, gives him a very truthful appearance. There is no privileged position to admire the statue, you can look at it entirely, turning around. Another element that denotes veracity is the expressiveness of Goliath’s head and the accuracy in representing his beard.
At the time, people did not like the statue that much: in particular, people did not like the features of David, considered too effeminate.
Some scholars have thought that the statue, in reality, represented the god Mercury, given the particular headdress.
This sculpture gives its name to the most important Italian film award (it is the Italian Oscar, to be clear). In fact, the young hero of Donatello who defeats the giant is the symbol of genius, creativity and Italian stylistic perfection. The prize that is awarded to the winners is just a version of the David in small scale, made of gold by Costantino Bulgari.
Currently, the David di Donatello is no longer in the courtyard of the Palazzo Medici, but is located in the Bargello Museum.
David made by Michelangelo – identity card
Michelangelo’s David was commissioned to the artist (who was only 26 years old) in 1501 by the Opera del Duomo in Florence, to be used for the exterior of the cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore.
It’s a marble sculpture, but it’s too big to be used as you originally wanted, so they decided to put it in front of Palazzo Vecchio, in Piazza della Signoria.
In his right hand, David has the stone he’ll use to kill the giant. So, unlike Donatello, who represents the moment of victory, Michelangelo represents the moment before the battle, then a moment of great tension, which can be seen in the focused and serious gaze of David.
Michelangelo creates a completely different David: he is not a teenager, but he is a real hunk, with a powerful and muscular body. Even Michelangelo, however, wants to highlight the victory of reason over brute force, and for this he realizes the head with proportions slightly larger than the body, as well as the hands, a means of which reason is used to win.
Michelangelo also sculpts a work decidedly truthful: we note a study of the anatomical details of the human body, which is reflected, for example, in the tension of the legs, the veins of the hands and the torsion of the neck. The artist does not insert the head of the giant Goliath, so breaks the tradition of representing David with the sign of victory. Instead, a small trunk has been inserted which has a static function, as in the ancient statues. The pose of David, in fact, derives from the Canon of Policleto, a written on the proportions to be followed to represent a human statue. To give greater expressiveness, Michelangelo slightly enlarges the head and hands, and perfects the technique of piercing the eyes. Pierce the pupils to make the look even more intense and penetrating.
The statue has been subject to numerous accidents: in 1512 a lightning struck the base, during riots in Florence in 1527, many stones damaged it so much to break the left arm. While in 1991 a madman hit him with a hammer, but only the big toe was damaged, which was immediately restored.
What you can admire there today is not the original, it is a copy. The original, in fact, has been in the Galleria dell’Accademia since the end of the nineteenth century, when it was moved and replaced to prevent the weather from ruining it.
“Why pay a ticket when we can see the same statue for free in the square?” you will say. Trust me: the experience of seeing the original David is priceless. It will be for the fact that it is clearly cleaner, it will be for the lights and the game of shades they created in the museum, but when you enter that room you will be amazed, as happened to us.
It is considered a masterpiece of world sculpture, as well as the ideal of male beauty in art, just as Botticelli’s Venus is considered the canon of female beauty. Many also think that the David is the most beautiful artistic object ever created by man. What do you think? Graziana far prefers Michelangelo’s David, while Rocco, instead, is madly in love with Donatello’s David, so much so that he would like to see him at home every day, a bit like Cosimo de’ Medici.
If you too, like us, love Tuscany… don’t forget to watch our video around San Gimignano, the medieval village with its 13 towers and the ice cream world champion!