Looking back on the history of art

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Looking back on the history of art, it is very easy to identify similarities in different works. A more difficult task, however, is taking two works, that on the surface look similar, and identify their differences. Two famous artists, Bernini and Donatello, each completed a piece of sculpture in the form of David, from the biblical story of David and Goliath. Each of the two pieces were named David, and were completed in the 15th and 17th centuries.

With a closer inspection of these two works, a person can not only see the similarities between the two sculptures, but can also identify these differences, and recognize how the differences reflect the artist’s themselves. The similarities in the two works of art can easily been distinguished. The name behind the two pieces represents the history of the artwork. Both sculptures are of a man, we know to be David, in the story of David and Goliath. The works by Bernini and Donatello are both nude, evidently drawing on the classical tradition of heroic nudity, and both were done out of common mediums at the time, bronze and marble.

As visible to the eye as the similarities are, the differences are slightly harder to see. The differences in these sculptures are a little more concealed. Obviously, Bernini’s David is in the process of killing Goliath while Donatello’s is just after. Just as obvious is the difference in mediums. Both figures were also nude, however, while Donatello’s David was nude entirely, Bernini’s figure contains a tunic which lies frivolously over the genitals and torso, yet still conforming to the silhouette of every twist and turn of his body.

The major divergence between Bernini’s David and Donatello’s David can be distinguished mainly in the physical aspects of the sculpture. Evidently, finding the comparisons, and even the blatant differences, in these two pieces can easily be recognized. Nevertheless, seeing the more minute distinctions between the two pieces of art calls for a close examination. In Italy, one of the most influential figures of the 15th century was a sculptor by the name of Donatello (Stokstad). This artist stood out from many other artists because of the way he was constantly exploring human emotions and expressions.

This fact is clearly shown in his rendition of David, sculpted in 1420 out of bronze. His sculpture was at a height of about five feet, but was placed on a pedestal, making the piece seem to look down on the viewer. This piece was credited to being the first life-size male nude, making Donatello a forerunner in sculpture (Stokstad). Donatello made the boy out of bronze material, which shines in the light, accentuating the curvature of the boys body. He is wearing only a rose-trimmed shepards hat and boots, and is standing on Goliaths decapitated head (Schneider).

David was made to appear as an adolescent boy standing in a very passive position with dream-like facial expressions. By making the sculpture in this manner, the viewer only senses the action the took place prior to this point in time. The viewer sees the boy holding Goliath’s massive sword, and gets the sense of David’s heroism to be even greater coming from someone so young and innocent. Donatello seems to put the focus of the sculpture on the front, making the viewer want to stand and look up into the boy’s face, once again, showing Donatello’s attention to human facial expressions.

Along with this focus of the sculpture, many people theorize that the sculpture’s other concentration also relates to Donatello’s own personality, having a reputation of homosexuality. The figure is often described as “not an ideal but an object of desire, strangely androgynous in its combination of sinewy angularity with feminine softness and fullness (Janson. )” As an entire picture, Donatello’s David, while encompassing feminine grace and delicacy, also expresses triumph and heroism.

Opposing Donatello’s sculpture was a piece of work done nearly 200 years later by Bernini. Bernini differed from Donatello as an artist in many ways. He was an independent sculpture from Rome, who’s signature style was introducing a new type of three dimensional composition that intrudes into the viewer’s space (Stokstad). This can be clearly seen in his rendition of David. Bernini’s David was much more masculine. His version was a more mature man, rather than an adolescent boy. In this sculpture, the figure’s body is tense and in a very active position.

His body is twisting at the waist and distorts far to one side, actually being in the process of killing Goliath with his slingshot and stone. The marble medium of the figure absorbs light and forms shadows on the body of David accentuating his power and force (Schneider). The facial expression in this sculpture are no longer serene, as in Donatello’s David, but determined and angry. Bernini sculpted the muscles of the character to be bulging and tense, almost to convey the anxiety of the situation.

The fact that the character is so dynamic, makes the viewer want to see the scene from all angles. Not only does one feel to be in the middle of the action (Goliath being behind you ready to strike), but the viewer feels as though they want to be surrounded by the action. The sculpture pulls you to rotate around the piece, viewing it from all angles. As you can see there are great variations between Bernini’s piece and Donatello’s. The distinctions between the two artist’s rendition’s of David, and style’s of sculpture, have a lot to do with their own surroundings and time.

Just as a person’s surrounding affect their lifestyle, an artist’s surrounding’s affect their artwork. Donatello was an early renaissance artist and participated in the 15th century artists’ new interest in the individual. This is a good reason for why Donatello was so focused on human emotions and expressions (Stokstad). This artist’s version of David was also a mystery of it’s reason for construction. However, a theory is that it celebrated the triumph of Florentine over Milanese in 1428. The base the boy is standing on is engraved with an message praising Florentine heroism and virtue (Stokstad).

This would also relate to the boy’s expressions, presenting a loss of interest in warfare and retreating into his dreams (Stokstad). In Gianlorenzo Bernini’s life, however, he became a famous independent sculpture, working only for the papacy and private clients. His three-dimensional form of sculpture, seen in his David, was said to be inspired by the athletic figures Annibale Carracci had painted on a palace ceiling some twenty years earlier (Stokstad). Clearly, different surroundings effected the artists in different ways.

Even though both of these two sculptures were of the exact same biblical story and person, both artist’s renditions differed completely. Bernini and Donatello were two separate artists, working at different times from each other, and were influenced by different occasions. This, however, portrays how remarkable art is as a technique used to depict different meanings and different history. In comparing and contrasting these two works of art, the difficulty of seeing the differences in the two is apparent, just as seeing the straightforwardness of the similarities is.

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