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The Biblical Figure of David in Art
The Biblical figure of David has a long and illustrious tradition in art. We are, of course, all familiar with Michelangelo's "goliath" figure of David dating from 1501-04. However before that, there were stone sculptings of the figure more than a century before and Donatello's groundbreaking, life-size, nude, bronze figure of a rather boyish David wearing a wide-brimmed hat, standing a bit pensively over the severed head of his slain enemy. This he created in 1408 making it the first life-size nude statue since classical times. Andrea del Verrocchio created a somewhat similar life-size bronze figure for the de Medici family (who incidentally, also owned the Donatello figure). His sculpture, also of an adolescent, but clothed, is, in contrast, is much more heroic and slightly older, exuding pride and self-confidence, rather than the dreamy gaze of disbelief seen in Donatello's work. This sculpture was created about 1470.

Between these two landmark works come the efforts of a painter, Andrea del Costagno, who contributed his vision of the David tradition in a painted shield done about 1450-55. Although he was undoubtedly familiar with the Donatello sculpture, his painting however bears little resemblance to it. This David is an athletic young man, dressed in a short, white shirt and flowing red tunic, wielding his sling and stone, arm upraised, standing over the severed head of Goliath, defending the faith, taking on all comers.

Costagno's inspiration seems to have been sculptural. However it bears no debt to the Early Renaissance, but to Roman sculpture instead, and strangely, it seems based upon an ancient statue in marble of a fleeing warrior. Yet there is no hint of fear or flight in this work. Costagno's strongly defiant David may, in fact, have been the inspiration not just for Verrocchio, but for Michelangelo as well. Yet it is more than that. It is a figure in a fighting pose, not unlike that of Gianlorenzo Bernini's Baroque marble of David done almost 175 years later.

Contributed by Lane, Jim
24 January 1998


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