Sculpture is a distinct form of three-dimensional art, which approval is often visual (Corrain 2). Images were traditionally made from stone and wood, but modern materials used for work include bronze and marble. It originated mainly in Greece and was largely influenced by religion. Donato di Niccolo Donatello and Michelangelo Buonarroti are among the most famous sculptors in history, and both were from Florence. Donatello’s works are among the first in the Italian Renaissance period of sculpture history, while Michelangelo’s works mark the end of this period (Corrain 61). Their works were heavily influenced by their political and religious backgrounds as evidenced by the fact that both made a sculpture of the Biblical David who was highly revered in Florentine art. Their sculptures have been regarded as some of the greatest works in history and have been preserved in art museums. Donatello’s work is currently found in the Bargello Art Gallery, while Michelangelo’s is in the Academia Art Museum (Visual-arts-cork 1). This paper aims to compare and contrast the two sculptures by Donatello and Michelangelo.
Donatello’s David was the first portrayal of the hero without clothes and the first human nude sculpture. It was characteristic in that the private parts and the pubic hair were very distinct. Most people criticized the aspect of nudity saying that it was irrelevant to David’s personality and almost regarded it as immoral. The artist was not married and was suspected to be homosexual. Paul Strathern, a historian, said that Donatello was homosexual, and his friends appreciated him so. Therefore, nakedness was seen to display the artist’s sexual personality (Graham-Dixon 327). Despite the criticism, Michelangelo proceeded to make another nude carving of David with his private parts exposed more than 60 years later. This also generated strong reaction from the public and when a copy of the statue was positioned in a cemetery in Glendale, the genitals are obscured using a leaf, though it is removed after some time (Visual-arts-cork 1). As renaissance sculptors, the artists sought to display David in his most real and humane form. Their courage to carve nude sculptures that would be viewed by the public was a sign of their appreciation of the human body. This indicated a heavy Greek influence on their art characteristic of the Gothic sculpture generation that existed before the two (Chapman 6).
Both sculptures seemed to indicate that the heroic David continued to influence the political feelings of the Florentine Republic. Donatello’s sculpture has features resembling that of a female, which portray David as possessing an arrogant and confident personality. The people of Florence perceived themselves as being better than the people from other surrounding states and hence could identify with Donatello’s superior and arrogant David. Furthermore, the sculpture was ordered by a renowned art patron from the renowned Medici family, who displayed it in his courtyard indicating the importance and power associated with the personality of David. Upon eviction of the Medici’s from Florence, the statue was moved to the offices of the Signoria to serve as a representation of the city’s republican government (Chapman 7). Michelangelo’s sculpture was initially meant to be displayed in the Florence cathedral (Chapman 7). However, on completion, it was placed outside the offices of the Florentine civic government where the public could see it. The victorious personality of David was a representation of protection of the Florentine republic as it was surrounded by powerful states who threatened its independence. The sculpture was placed so that David was looking at Rome, which was interpreted as a warning against attacking Florence (Fossi & Bussagli 126). In both cases, the statues were placed outside powerful political offices indicating that he was a political figure. Michelangelo intended that the statue has a political impact as he writes in his diary, “………….Florence was astounded. A civic hero, he was a warning...whoever governed Florence should govern justly and defend it bravely. Eyes watchful...the neck of a bull...hands of a killer...the body, a reservoir of energy. He stands poised to strike" (Cunningham & Reich 266).
It has been noted that in both statues, David was not circumcised as was expected of the male followers of the Judaic religion. However, this aspect is in agreement with the characteristics of the Renaissance generation (Visual-arts-cork 1). The two artists belonged to this sculpture generation hence is the similarity in the statues.
Donatello includes some almost feminine features in David’s statue. This could be in an effort to improve the appearance of the still young and immature heroic David. It has been said that nudity gave the statues a more human identity and it may be interpreted as the artist’s wish to communicate the beauty of the human body (Corrain 63). Michelangelo’s statue is still nude, but its beauty is more pronounced in the posture. The statue stands in a slanted position so that most of the body’s weight is supported by the back leg, while the other is relaxed. This position places the lower body in opposite position to the upper body so that the whole body assumes an s-shape. The head faces left, and the left arm is supporting the sling on his backside. It has been regarded as a representation of power and beauty possessed by humans in their youth (Fossi & Bussagli 128). Both statues sought to denote the human being as being beautiful showing their appreciation of the human beauty.
The statues had a religious theme as they were inspired by the Biblical hero David who triumphed over his enemy Goliath. The society was able to identify with the statues and draw inspiration from them indicating their belief in Judaism. The effect of religion on both artists is evident in their other works, which also possess religious backgrounds. Michelangelo’s statue was initially designed for the Florence Cathedral, though its positioning was changed later (Visual-arts-cork 1).
A notable difference is the physical attributes of the two statues. Donatello’s statue was small, boyish and could have been said to be feminine. This has been attributed to the Greeks’ appreciation of the human body and its features, and it has argued as the artist’s efforts to show the young David’s beauty. Others have argued that it was in agreement with the true physique of the young and powerless Biblical David who overcame Goliath by a sling (Graham-Dixon 328). Michelangelo, on the other hand, carved the largest human form ever seen in history. The statue was 4.34m tall and weighed about 25 tons (Chapman 8). Its size was its most appalling feature, and it is said to have been moved by forty men for five days from the workshop to its intended position. Donatello represented David as a courageous warrior ready for battle shown by the stone in his hand and the anxious look on his face. Though the excesses in size could be because it was originally intended to be placed on the roof of the cathedral, it is obvious that the size communicated a greater message. Florence was undergoing political difficulties due to threats from their otherwise more powerful neighbors. He used the statue to speak hope to the disillusioned Florentines (Bevan 111). Just like David’s situation had been hopeless, his belief in God made him victorious. While Donatello’s statue showed victory and superiority, Michelangelo’s statue showed the people’s anxiety at the time and provided hope for the future.
Donatello’s David stands proudly over Goliath’s head with a sword in his hand. He also dons a pair of boots and a helmet and has his hands on his waist. His physical features are like those of a small boy; he looks almost feminine and appears to be smiling (Cunningham & Reich 267). This is a representation of victorious, satisfied and proud David after killing Goliath just like the Florentines who were feeling that their heritage was more superior to that of their neighbors. However, Michelangelo’s statue is extremely large with very well-developed physical features. It is different from all the other past works in that Goliath’s head is omitted. He holds the actual weapon used by the Biblical David to fight his enemy, a stone. As opposed to earlier portrayals of a powerful, victorious and mighty hero, this one seems afraid and anxious. His face is creased, while his face and neck muscles appear really tight, and his eyes are keenly focused on something, but his other body is easy and calm. This seems to depict David before his victory against the enemy though he was well-prepared for the battle. It was the political situation in Florentine at the time during which many enemies are threatening their peace and the citizens are restless and without hope for a victorious future (Fossi & Bussagli 129). The artist understood that David may have felt inadequate and powerless in comparison with Goliath, but his unwavering trust in God made him courageous enough to hope for a victorious ending. The artist wanted the people to identify with the heroic David and be hopeful about a good ending to their political problems.
The two statues were made from different materials. Donatello’s statue was made of bronze (Visual-arts-cork 1), while Michelangelo’s statue was carved out of marble (Chapman 8). This was an indication of the development of sculpture history as Donatello existed at earlier time than Michelangelo. The former is associated with the first or early Renaissance generation and the latter with the higher Renaissance generation (Graham-Dixon 328).
Despite the statues being made by different artists at different times, they share numerous similarities. They communicate many similar messages, and the difference may have been how each writer decided to put their point across. The original statues have been well-preserved and remain among the best works of art. They have been reproduced and displayed around the world.