David (Donatello)  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Donatello's bronze statue of David (circa 1440s) is notable as the first unsupported standing work in bronze cast during the Renaissance period, and the first freestanding nude male sculpture made since antiquity. It created a sensation when it was first shown, due to its portrayal of the nude young male. It depicts the young David with an enigmatic smile, posed with his foot on Goliath's severed head just after killing the giant. The youth is standing naked, apart from a laurel-topped hat and boots, bearing the sword of Goliath.

The exact date of creation is unknown, but widely disputed, and dates vary between 1430 and the more accepted 1440s. Donatello had made a marble statue of David in 1408/1409, though this figure was a well-dressed and victorious king holding his sling, having slain the giant, Goliath's head resting between his feet. The physical frailty and effeminate physique, which Mary McCarthy called "a transvestite's and fetishist's dream of alluring ambiguity," contrasted with the absurdly large sword by his side shows that David has conquered Goliath not by physical prowess, but through the will of God. The boy's nakedness further enhances the idea of the presence of God, contrasting the youth with the heavily-armoured giant. The figure's contrapposto suggests that Goliath did not pose a threat to him.

The statue originally belonged to Cosimo de' Medici, and was placed in the courtyard of the Palazzo Medici in Florence. After the expulsion of Piero de' Medici, it was confiscated, and ordered placed in the courtyard of the Palazzo della Signoria. It is now in the Bargello. There is a full-size plaster cast (with a broken sword) in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Other subsequent noted Italian statues of David are by Andrea del Verrocchio, Michelangelo, and Bernini.


David was a very controversial statue for many reasons. One reason was the fact that it depicted a nude young man, with much detail on the genitals. Also, a long feather coming from David's boot that caressed his leg and thigh, had, at the time, implied that David and/or Donatello (the artist), was homosexual. During Classical antiquity, homosexuality had been something that was practiced regularly, and men believed that could only achieve great love with other men. However, during the time of the Renaissance, when the statue was created, sodomy was illegal, and over 14,000 people had been tried in Florence for this crime. So this homosexual implication was very risky and dangerous. The fact that the Medici family had accepted this controversial statue was one of the reasons why Savonarola objected to the Medici's humanist ideas.

Change in identification

The traditional identification of the figure has been recently questioned, with an interpretation leaning toward ancient mythology, the hero's helmet especially suggesting Hermes. The sculpture is now sometimes referred to as David-Mercury. If the figure is indeed meant to represent Mercury, it may be supposed that he stands atop the head of the vanquished giant Argus Panoptes.


The statue recently underwent restoration in 2008 and is on display in Bargello.

In addition to the full-cast copy in the United Kingdom, there is also another copy at the Slater Museum at the Norwich Free Academy in Norwich, Connecticut, United States.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "David (Donatello)" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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