The theme of David in Florentine sculpture of the early Renaissance
Doddoli, Allene F.
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The David theme was considered from its earliest conception as a theme which represented the heroic capabilities of man. In the biblical interpretation, the David theme had a very specific significance for the Israelites as a symbol of their salvation. In that context, David's fame was achieved by his victory over the enemy of Israel—the Philistine giant, Goliath. In a larger sense, the biblical interpretation can be extended to include the concept of the triumph of morality over immorality; civilized society over barbarism. It was this conception of David which was further adapted by the Florentine sculptors of the Quattrocento. The philosophical, political, and artistic climate of Quattrocento Florence proved to be fertile ground for the growth and development of a hero figure who would be intimately associated with the spirit of the city-republic. The idea and spirit of the David theme evoked both political and artistic responses from the citizens of Florence. Government leaders saw in the David theme the heroic inspiration they needed to accompany the growing nationalistic spirit of the people. The sculptors-of Florence who were summoned to translate this figure of heroic inspiration into a visual symbol used the opportunity to explore the theme in their new approaches to three-dimensional representations of the human form. Donatello is the first major sculptor of Quattrocento Florence to be considered. Donatello's earliest David (1408-1409) shows the sculptor's transition from the late Gothic to the Early Renaissance style. In his later bronze David (c. 1432), he has achieved a significant sculptural landmark in his treatment of the theme in the nude adolescent male figure. The David Martelli. possibly done by Donatello, has aroused some disagreement regarding its actual authorship and dating. This David will be discussed stylistically and iconographically in relation to the other Davids mentioned. Ghiberti, in his David and Goliath panel for the north portal of the baptistry in Florence (1424-1452), has demonstrated his ability to successfully combine the stylistic elements of the International style and the Early Renaissance approach. Perhaps the fact that Ghiberti's David is but one of a great number of figures explains why his David does not stand as a single figure symbolic of the heroic ideals of the Early Renaissance in Florence. The David of Pollaiuolo may be more easily considered as an anatomical exercise than as a statement of Florence's political philosophy. Pollaiuolo's David is, however,-a significant artistic expression in that it describes an important sculptural approach and suggests the artistic developments that will succeed it. The painted David of Andrea del Castagno derives its pose from classical prototypes, and, like Pollaiuolo's David, significantly reflects the stylistic changes which were taking place. Andrea del Verrocchio created a bronze David (c. 1465) which embodied both the artistic and symbolic developments of the Florentine city-republic. The influence of Verrocchio's bronze David may be noted in the great numbers of small terracotta statuettes fashioned after his David during the early Cinquecento. Michelangelo's famous marble David (1501-1504) is perhaps one of the strongest examples demonstrating the interrelationships between the David theme and the artistic and political ideals of the Early Renaissance in Florence. Michelangelo's now lost bronze David most probably echoed these same sentiments. The association of the David theme with the ideals of the Florentine city-republic seems to have been not only a logical development, but one which was particularly relevant to the Florentine environment of the age.