Bernini: David

Gianlorenzo Bernini was a well-known and influential architect during the Baroque period. However, he is best known as a talented sculptor. His works, architectural and sculptural, exhibit the key characteristics of the spirit of Baroque art. Time, emotion, action, and drama often play a key role in his works, too.

One example of his Baroque works is his rendition of David.

Bernini, David, 1623

Of course, Bernini’s David was not the first sculpture of this biblical figure. Many famous sculptures of David existed, such as that of Michelangelo’s, Donatello, and Verrocchio (all three artists are Renaissance artists). Because of the popularity of these Renaissance artists and their works of art, Bernini surely knew of these earlier versions of David as he was sculpting his own version. However, Bernini’s rendition of David is strikingly different from that of his predecessors.

The earlier masterpieces had depicted different points of the bible story. Donatello and Verrocchio’s depicted David after his victory (The head of Goliath lies at David’s feet in Verrocchio’s rendition.) Michelangelo depicted is famous David before his encounter with the giant. Bernini, unlike his predecessors chose a different moment to capture. He chose to depict the biblical figure in the midst of combat. Bernini aimed to capture the split-second of maximum action, which is very much in the spirit of Baroque art. David strong and muscular legs are widely and firmly planted on the ground. His body is twisted as he is about to take a swing and launch the stone from his sling. There is a bag full of stones that hangs at David’s left hip, implying that his battle with Goliath will be long and tough.

To me, Bernini’s sculpture of David exudes a dramatic quality and a bursting forth of energy that none of the earlier sculptures of David do. Seeing the sculpture, the viewer can easily predict David’s next move (that is, swinging his body and launching the stone from his sling). In this sense, Bernini’s David moves through time and space. David’s dynamic action seems to command the space around the sculpture. The focus and concentration on David’s face add to the drama of the sculpture. This kind of tension depicted in David’s face is much more accented than the previous versions of David.

The action, drama, and suspense of his work may belie the sculptures artistic qualities. However, Bernini is as capable of any other sculptor. He sculpts the muscles, hair, and facial expression naturalistically and skillfully. I am very amazed at the expansiveness of the work and its theatrical effect. As a viewer, I can feel the action and the tension of the statue. In all, I think that Bernini successfully managed to create a sculpture that is very much in the spirit of Baroque art.

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