1600 – 1700
The Baroque

Bernini's David


Bernini, David, 1623-24 (Galleria Borghese, Rome)
Gian Lorenzo Bernini, David, marble, 1623-24 (Galleria Borghese, Rome)

Bernini's David is like a major league pitcher winding up to throw a 95 miles an hour fastball. The pitcher gathers all of his strength for each pitch and puts everything he has into it.

Baroque art wants us to be able to relate to the image in our bodies, not just in our minds. Bernini's David  uses the space around it—reaching out into the space of the viewer (our space!). Bernini's David is not content—the way Michelangelo's David is—to remain separate from us. When looking at Bernini's David, we immediately start to feel what David is feeling. This sympathy is very important to Baroque art. 

Bernini, David, 1623-23 (Galleria Borghese, Rome)

In the High Renaissance we saw the composition in the form of a pyramid—a very stable shape. But in the Baroque era we see compositions in the shape of diagonal lines, as in Bernini's David.The diagonal line immediately suggests movement and energy and drama—very different from the immobility of the pyramid shape. Donatello, David, c. 1440s (Bargello, Rome)

Three Davids
Donatello shows us an early moment in the Renaissance—the beginnings of Humanism when artists were first discovering contrapposto and the beauty of ancient Greek and Roman sculpture. His young figure of David symbolizes the Republic of Florence, which saw itself—like David—as blessed by God. Donatello shows David victorious standing on the head of Goliath.

Michelangelo's David is ideally beautiful. David contemplates his upcoming fight with Goliath, staring at his foe. Michelangelo, David, 1501-4 (Accademia, Florence)

Bernini shows us a less ideal, and more real David—one who, with God's help, is actively fighting Goliath (perhaps the way the church itself felt as they were battling against Luther).

The Path to God 
Michelangelo seems to be asking us to sit and contemplate the incredible beauty of David, and through contemplating beauty (the beauty of man, God's greatest creation), we come to know God. On the other hand, there is no time for contemplation with Bernini's David, there is only time for ducking out of the way. Our reaction is in our bodies, not in our minds. 

The path to God in the Baroque era is much more direct, more emotional, more bodily, and that of course relates to the embattled position of the Church, which felt as though it needed to appeal very directly to the faithful.

Your Comments (6)

Previous Comments

Katherine LeMay wrote on Wednesday, January 06, 2010

This is so great for High School Art History teacher. I love the whole website and I use it weekly. Thank you so much!!

Melody wrote on Tuesday, March 09, 2010

This is such an amazing contrast in the different David sculptures. I don't think I have ever contemplated the different meanings through the time periods as the artists sculpted. Thank you for pulling them all together into one place

Denis wrote on Monday, April 12, 2010

I think that the glorification of David as an instrument of God is misleading to the actual reality of the 'person'- History shows that David was in fact a very brutal general who ensured the expansion of new state of Judea at the expense and by massacre of the indigenious people. But these sculpture is of course a great achievement for the Artists who own a great debt to the classic Greek scuptures from which they were so obviously inspired.

I love art wrote on Monday, January 31, 2011

great site, im doing my GCSE's and although its my 1st time on this site, ive found it very useful. Thanks and keep it up

Humanities student wrote on Sunday, November 25, 2012

Since i did a presentation on St. Peter's basilica. I wanted to see some more of Bernini's art work. The immediate reaction I got when I saw this David, was dislike. However, as the video progressed, I learned that this truly is a great work of art. In Michelangelos' David It is extremely elegant, and almost like a perfect snapshot of David after his triumph over Goliath. Michelangelos's eye for detail sets the bar high when it came to the dimensions of the body. But Bernini created chaos, and conflict in the composure of the body, the tension in the sling, and the determination in the face really cements the idea of action. Because of the curvatour of the body, shadows play a huge role in giving the body a lifelike appearance

Fred Gruber wrote on Sunday, March 10, 2013

When I visited the gallery in Rome, the docent said that the kinesiologists were now criticizing Bernini's work because David is winding up on the wrong side. I waited for the punch line but it never came. So here it is: Bernini gets the last laugh because David was ambidextrous. Changing hands at the last second to attack from the other side was one of his favorite tricks.

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