|One of the best known art works in the world: |
Michelangelo's David, completed in 1504, Florence.
You can click on any of the images to enlarge them.
|Donatello worked on the David between 1430 and 1432; it currently resides at the Bargello Palace and Museum in Florence, Italy. Although it's a simple story, each of the works discussed herein depict a different point, a different moment in the story of David slaying Goliath with Donatello's being that in the moment of victory as he stands on the head of his slain enemy. The victory being achieved, we almost have a feeling of sadness for David's future knowing he will go against God later in his sin with Bathsheba, and this is perhaps the reason why Donatello chose this moment, because we the viewer know the glory and victory won't last because of David's doings, not God's. Because David was traditionally a symbol of Florence, and the powerful Medici family was trying to take over Florence, we could see the numerous spiritual-worldly "conflicts" in David's story (following God vs seducing Bathsheba) as a warning to them: the Medicis, like David, were in good standing with Florence when the statue was made, however, Donatello could see their fall and exile, just as David would later sin against God and bring plague upon Israel as the Medicis would bring war and corruption to Florence. In this presentation, Donatello interprets Florence--and the power behind Florence in the Medici family--as youthful and "transparent," innocent of worldly affairs and ambition. We might even go so far as to read that Donatello presents a naive David whose spirituality is advanced, but will nonetheless be "ruined" by the laurels decorating his head in victory at this moment.|
|The back side of Donatello's David, where the large feather of Goliath's helmet brushes up against the naked, inner-thigh of the young David. An obvious question non-Art Historians ask Art Historians is, why is David wearing leg armor but is naked otherwise? Isn't that odd? And the proper Art Historian would respond, "Not at all, David is being presented in the 'heroic nude," so Donatello can display his skills at sculpting the human body, which was the hallmark trade of a great artist; the armor David wears reveals the intricate skill Donatello possesses in carrying out detail in this medium,...." Now, some people might be satisfied with this response, but I certainly never was, and I believe there is far more substantial reasoning for Donatello's decisions about details rather than the stock explanation of the "heroic nude." For example, if we compare this work of David to Donatello's statue of the prophet Habacuc, we note how Habacuc is robed and therein lies the reasoning for David's nudity: Habacuc is "clothed with the glory of God," he is a prophet and a holy man who has spiritually advanced, David has not yet achieved that, rather, in Donatello's interpretation, David is still a boy, even though he has begun to clothe himself in the truth of the Lord, which is the reason for David wearing the armor on his legs: our legs/feet symbolize the will, because our feet take us to where we want to go in life just as our will makes decisions that our the vehicle for where we want to go in life; that David has his will clothed in armor, meaning that his will is united to the Will of God and that is why David stepped forth as the champion to slay Goliath, but that single act doesn't make David a prophet, not yet, and it's the nudity which conveys this to us (long hair was also a sign of a prophet, as we learn in the story of Samson, and David's uncut hair emphasizes the life of a prophet he has been destined for): David is still flesh and susceptible to sins of the flesh (as we know he will commit adultery with Bathsheba) but he has started to follow (uniting his will power to) God. (Another way to look at this, and this is perhaps more pertinent, is that the armor covers only David's legs, which symbolizes our standing in society, our reputation; God has begun to "build up" David in the eyes of Israel with the defeat of Goliath so David can replace Saul as King, and that's why there is the armor on his legs). So, what about that enormous feather? Florence, for some reason, was a hotbed of sodomy as is modern Art History in its constant queer interpretations of the history of art, however, the interpretation CAN BE made that this is homo-erotic (one Art Historian has argued that Donatello was open about his homosexuality, but has not supported his claims), but, why use a feather, and why use the feather on the head of the Philistine enemy? Why juxtapose the feather with the sword in such an obvious, dramatic way if it's supposed to be homo-erotic (and we have no evidence that David was ever a sodomite)? My observation is, the feather has far more to do with the armor, rather than eroticism. One of the well-known manifestations taken by the Holy Spirit is the form of a bird (as when Christ was baptized and the Holy Spirit descended upon Him in the form of a Dove) and so we can see that this victory over Goliath for David "unites" David to the Holy Spirit (the feather reaching up his leg) and begins clothing him with the Spirit of Righteousness that will aid David in overtaking King Saul; in other words, the feather, like the armor, shows that David is being "wrapped" in the Holy Spirit so he will become a prophet (please see below on discussion with Bernini for additional substantiation of this line of analysis). We know it was the tradition among Biblical patriarchs (Abraham and Isaac) to have a vow/oath taken on the inside of their thigh, next to their manhood, because their "seed" was being united to whatever vow or covenant they entered into; interpreting the feather as a mystical symbol of the Holy Spirit being upon David at this moment (and we know the Spirit of God was upon David at certain times, just as the Spirit of God left Saul) that, not only will David beget Solomon who will build the Temple, but Jesus Himself will be born of the line of David and Jesus is The Temple. So the Holy Spirit vows to David that David's "seed" (Jesus) will also slay the giant enemy of mankind, Satan (symbolized by Goliath).|
The place on David's thigh where the feather reaches up is intended to emphasize the genitals, not because of a homo-erotic overtone (which is a contemporary grafting of political agendas onto the art by irresponsible scholars), rather, the swearing of an oath we see in both Genesis 24: 9 with Abraham, and again with Jacob in Genesis 47: 29. The placing of the hand on the thigh emphasized the genitals because it was through circumcision that the male gave himself to God, and God bound Himself to the people of Israel. Because David is of the circumcised of Israel, in other words, God both "creates the covenant and guarantees the oath." God called David to do God's work (become the shepherd of Israel, as Jesus will become the Good Shepherd), so God will insure that David has the means to do the work God sends him to do, and protect the flock.
The large feather of Goliath's helmet is, we can say, materially the exact opposite of the large sword David holds: the sword is made of iron or steel (it's Goliath's sword David uses to cut Goliath's head off his body), whereas the feather, of course, comes from an animal, natural, not man-made like the sword. Why is this important? Because two such obviously large formal elements are meant to be interpreted together. Realistically, the sword is far too large for David to be able to handle: the story of David slaying Goliath foreshadows what Jesus told Peter, that Peter (Petra) was the rock, and when he called Peter by this new name, Jesus was identifying Peter as THE rock used by David to kill Goliath with the slingshot (Jesus, then is symbolized by David and Peter, by the rock David took up and Goliath is the world/the devil). The sword depicted above, the "Sword Of Truth" is what destroys the devil's hold on us: the head symbolizes the governing function, so to behead Goliath means that David--on a spiritual plane--successfully destroyed Satan's hold on him (which Satan got control of when Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden Of Eden, hence, the devil's sword), and foreshadowed how Jesus would use his Vicar Peter to destroy Satan's hold on the world because the "Father Of Lies" that Satan is can only be destroyed with the Sword Of Truth.
Incorporating Michelangelo’s youthfulness into his own David, Bernini also critiques Donatello’s use of David as an empty vessel for the Holy Spirit. Bernini’s David (click here for a link to view the sculpture in 3-D, scroll down) is responding to the Holy Spirit and with his will united to God’s will and as God’s instrument: David slays Goliath by the power of the Holy Spirit symbolized by the wind enrapturing David (evidenced by his flowing clothes) in God’s power (not in the Protestant sense of “rapture,” rather, like the foreshadowing of Bernini's The Ecstasy of Teresa pictured below).
|Bernini's Ecstasy of St. Theresa in the Cornaro Chapel demonstrates God's |
messenger, the Angel with the arrow, overwhelming the Saint with God's Grace.