The Influence of Michelangelo on Bernini: David vs David

Rachel Crist

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Fig. 3, Gianlorenzo Bernini, “David”, c.1623, Borghese Gallery, Rome (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

 

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Fig. 4, Michelangelo Buonarroti, “Statue of David,” c. 1504, Florence (Source: http://sfnowak.com/2013/02/08/cant-escape-god/)

Michelangelo’s Statue of David was completed in 1504, and is one of the most renowned works of the Renaissance Period. This statue was commissioned in a series of statues to line the top of the Florence Cathedral, but instead it was put in the public square outside the Palazzo della Signoria.[1] The statue was then moved to the Accademia Gallery, also in Florence, in 1873 for conservation purposes. The statue was hardly suited to a place in the Piazza. It was designed to be seen from below, the oversized head and hands of the figure become unexpectedly prominent when the statue is just above pavement level.[2] In Michelangelo’s David, the pose is similar to that of the classical Greek body. His figure is in a relaxed contraposto pose, with one hand at his side and the other carrying the sling. This is one of the identifications that the figure is David from the biblical tale of David and Goliath. From the posture of the figure, the viewer can see that he is standing straight, tense, and ready for combat. The furrowed brow suggests that David is thinking of what strategy to proceed with, against Goliath. The physiognomies of his features behold much symbolism that can be compared to Bernini’s David.

Bernini’s David was completed in 1623-1624. The statue was commissioned by Cardinal Scipione Borghese to be put in the collection at the Borghese Gallery in Rome. It is unknown as to whether or not the Cardinal specifically asked for a statue of David, or if he just commissions for four random subjects. This is the fourth and final life-sized statue of the collection that was commissioned by Cardinal Borghese. The David is psychologically more advanced than any other Borghese statues. As his feet spread wide apart, he twists to gain the maximum swing for his shot while his head remains fixed in his concentration on the gigantic adversary.[3] The movement of the figure broke new ground in the baroque period because it had never been expressed this way before in a statue of this subject. It is an Olympic stance that can be seen in different forms of two ancient masterpieces. First, it is a reinterpreted stance from Myron’s classically balanced and static Discobolos.[4] Second, it also stands in reference to the Borghese Warrior, which stood nearby in the Cardinal’s gallery. In addition to having a reinterpreted pose, the movement of the statue insinuates that the viewer is the person being attacked. It is a safe assumption to say that this variation of David is quite different from any seen in the past. “It serves as a milestone in the development of psychological and spatial power released through Bernini’s chisel, and some say it is a revealing self-portrait.”[5]

At first glance, the two statues are obviously different styles, but they represent the same subject matter.  One statue comes from a clear renaissance and antiquated background, and the other from a baroque background. Both figures have an intense psychological meaning shown in the facial features. The symbolism that both characters display is that they are both in battle, either preparing for it or engaging in it. The influence of Michelangelo on Bernini’s David can be seen in two major ways when assessing the specific objects in the statue. First, both artists used the sling to portray the statue as being David from the biblical tale. Second, the absence of the head of Goliath creates a sense of singularity on just the figure of David and makes the time of the event unknown. Since the head of Goliath is usually used as a symbol of victory the viewer can assume the battle is still ongoing or hasn’t even started.  The portrayal of the head of Goliath is a usual occurrence in many other statues of David, such as by the artists Verrocchio and Donatello, and can be comparable to Caravaggio as well. However, Bernini’s David does nothing to portray the triumphant boy victor, but more a full-grown, fully engaged man. Another interesting factor about both figures, is that the artists were apparently influenced by antiquity. The influence on Michelangelo can be seen with the classical Greek musculature and the influence on Bernini is the movement or stance of the figure. Though they are not exactly the same as ancient Greek and Roman statues, they do both seem to have influenced stylistic qualities.

The artist’s differ in their portrayal of David in a less apparent, but more symbolic way. Bernini’s David has an obvious intent on hitting or attacking an unseen force while Michelangelo’s David is still contemplating what his strategy will be. This makes the action of Michelangelo’s David harder to interpret. However, that does not mean Michelangelo’s work is more intellectual and Bernini’s work is more physical. Both works portray physiognomy that can be interpreted in many different ways. Bernini used his skills learned from studying Michelangelo’s David to create a masterpiece that portrayed physical and psychological awareness.

 

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Fig. 5, Michelangelo Buonarroti, “Statue of David”, c. 1504, Florence (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

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Fig. 6, Gianlorenzo Bernini, “David”, c. 1623, Rome, Borghese Gallery (Source: EnlightArt)



 

[1] Anthony Hughes. Michelangelo. (London: Phaidon Press Limited, 1997), 70

 

[2] Hughes, Michelangelo, 71

 

[3] Howard Hibbard. Bernini. (New York: Penguin Books, 1965, 55

 

[4] Charles Scribner III, Gian Lorenzo Bernini. (New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., Publishers, 1991), 66

 

[5] Charles Scribner III, Gian Lorenzo Bernini, 66