Project Description

DAVID – Bernini 1623

The David sculpted by Gian Lorenzo Bernini enhances the physical qualities of the young biblical character, striving to throw the stone at Goliath.

Gian Lorenzo Bernini, David, 1623-1624, marble, h 170 cm. Rome, Galleria Borghese

David stands with his chest turned to his right. With his hands he tends the sling armed with the big stone. His face is contracted into a grimace that reveals a deep concentration. The young hero is naked, like a classical statue, covered only by a drapery tight around the hips. Below you can see the armor of King Saul and the zither decorated with an eagle head. This symbol indicated the family of Cardinal Scipione Caffarelli-Borghese.

The David sculpted by Bernini is life-size. The young hero described in the Bible is represented when he throws the stone at the giant Goliath.

Gian Lorenzo Bernini interpreted the biblical character in a more secular sense. He proposed an athletic version, centered on the power and agility of the young hero. For this the sculptor created the screwed movement which suggests the powerful click. Also the expression of the face and the grimace of concentration transmit the physical effort that is that of a gymnast. The previous and famous representations of Donatello, Michelangelo and Verrocchio were instead very different.
The artists, in fact, represented David as a hero inspired by God and armed with the power of reason. Michelangelo sculpted a concentrated David in finding the best moment to strike. Donatello instead depicted a victorious teenager and elegantly standing on the giant’s head. It seems that the face of Bernini’s David is the portrait of the twenty-five-year-old sculptor.
Cardinal Alessandro Peretti commissioned the statue of David from Bernini in 1623. The destination chosen by the powerful religious was the garden of his Villa Montalto. In this context the cardinal had in fact set up a scenographic environment that would enhance the sculpture. On the Cardinal’s death on 2 June 1623 the commission was taken over by Cardinal Scipione Caffarelli-Borghese. The religious was in fact a great collector.

Cardinal Scipione Borghese, who later confirmed the commission of David was a passionate classicist. It is therefore likely that this has affected the character’s more heroic than religious interpretation.

The statue was completed in May 1624 and was placed on the ground floor of the cardinal’s villa, near Porta Pinciana. Today it is known as the headquarters of the Borghese gallery. The sculpture by Gian Lorenzo Bernini immediately received many acclaim.

The statue depicting David, a Jewish hero, was made by Gian Lorenzo Bernini between 1623 and 1624. The sculptor at the time was 25 years old, having been born in 1598 in Naples. It is therefore a young work that is affected by the artist’s first training. Probably a source of inspiration for Bernini was the figure of Polyphemus made by Annibale Carracci inside the Gallery of Palazzo Farnese in Rome. Michelangelo’s David recalls classical sculpture, in particular the Doriforo di Policleto, that of Bernini instead, is inspired by the Hellenistic statuary.

See also the work entitled: David with the Head of Goliath by Caravaggio.

The statue of David by Gian Lorenzo Bernini is consistent with the Baroque aesthetic. The artists of the time in fact had to create spectacular and dynamic figures, suitable for decorating the scenically furnished environments.

In designing the structure of the statue of David, Bernini also carefully considered the position in which to place it. In order to enhance the character’s strength and movement, the natural light entering through the gallery windows is crucial. This consideration of the architectural space and the consequent illumination was a particular shrewdness of Bernini already present in the previous works realized for the cardinal Alessandro Peretti.

In order to best observe Bernini’s David it is necessary to consider the main point of view. In fact, despite the sculpture has been resolved in all its parts, the composition of the statue provides a front view. Goliath is not visible and therefore its presence can only be evoked. The user of the work must imagine the great and threatening warrior in front of the boy. David watches his enemy and loads the action with his whole body. The leg offers a support to the trunk that is activated like a spring. The effort of the arm is indulged by the head and even by the look of the boy.

The position of David’s opponent, Goliath, coincides with that of a frontal observer. In fact the best angle to observe the sculpture is the one that is on the trajectory of the young person. This compositional choice is extremely important to understand the mechanism with which Bernini managed to create such an effective representation of the fact.

The structure is organized with spiral lines that create intense movement. In this way, in fact, the illusion of the muscular charge is used to launch the stone with the sling.
If viewed from the front the figure of the David possesses a strong stability that blocks it in the loading of the action. If viewed from the side, instead, it shows instability that derives from the gesture of screwing of the chest.

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