Both Michelangelo and Bernini have made a sculpture of David. David is from a story recorded in the Old Testament Bible of Christianity, depicting the battle between the young David (the future king of Israel) and the Philistine warrior Goliath. Saul and the Judah met the Philistines. David was fearless. He hit Goliath’s forehead with a stone and defeated Goliath. Michelangelo is an unyielding master who has devoted everything to the art of sculpture（Wallace，2011）. The David image has a shocking charm in addition to his body-building physique. Bernini’ David image full of motion and exquisite details. So the work of both Michelangelo and Bernini tried to portray David as a hero. But the two brilliant artists take different method to approach the figure. This paper would like to look into differences of the two work.
I have actually seen Michelangelo’s David,which is huge. It is much bigger than I thought. With the majestic shape, the persevering expression, the whole sculpture is rough, strong and full of strength. The David of Bernini, on the other hand, it is much more feminine and much smaller. Michelangelo’s David looks beautiful, physique fit, and the skeletal muscles are realistic, showing Michelangelo’s unique research on the human body structure. Long arms, broad chest, thick shoulders, strong abdominal muscles and thighs, every inch of skin is filled with the masculine beauty of men. No one can imitate David’s classics. However, what fascinates me the most is the facial expression, the brows, the big eyes, and the feeling of tension before the battle. The black cloud of the eyeball is like a burning black flame, which make him appears is to devour the opponent. I can imagine the scene of the raging wind and the falling leaves, which makes me feel that maybe eyes can really kill. In front of the mighty giant, his persevering and aggressive look does change, there is not slightest retreat and fear on his face. There is the absolute belief in his own eyes, which reflects the coexistence of David’s wisdom and courage. David, this god-like man, reveals the light of human wisdom and expresses the fresh idea brought by the Renaissance. Human beings no longer surrender to the imprisonment of theocracy and move toward individual liberation(Elet,2014). Michelangelo’s David is a model of human beauty. The masculine beauty is intoxicating and shows Michelangelo’s ultimate pursuit of perfection. What’s more important is that the tension in his body is shocking. This combination of toughness and fragility is impressive, which is why he can be an eternal classic.
As for Bernini’s David, If Michelangelo’s David is brilliant in portraying the charm of David, Bernini’s depiction of David’s action is even more ingenious. It should be said that Bernini’s David is more richer to a extent than Michelangelo’s David. Compared to Michelangelo’s David, Bernini’s David is more dynamic, and even the folds of the clothes are very vivid. I think Bernini focuses more on the details in order to better express the tension of the battle. And the curl of the placket is intended to highlight David’s agile and muscular body. The bowed back, the separate strong feet and the tight rope reveals the invisible tension, making people feel that he is a slingshot, pulling the huge stone to the opponent, the huge contrast between the explosive power and the not burly body is in my opinion a kind of ultimate beauty. That kind of masculine and feminine unity is more closer to human characteristics, which is very different from Michelangelo’s David, and Michelangelo’s David is more of a masculine and rough beauty. Bernini’s David is more delicate and feminine and pays more attention to detail. I think Michelangelo is portraying a perfect pure beauty, expressing the persistent pursuit of human beauty, and David is a good interpretation of this; Bernini pays attention to the overall expression. He is good at portraying the dynamics of the characters, portraying the posture of David’s battle vividly and coherently, and giving the sculpture a living soul. Although the sculpture is not moving, from the posture that is ready to go, we can feel the blending of power and beauty. We can imagine what kind of weapon is hidden behind it, the weapon will be thrown in a flash, and the opponents would fell to the ground in the next second. From another angle, Bernini’s David expresses the unity of masculinity and femininity in addition to human wisdom and power. Bernini’s creation of the human body borrowed from the naturalism developed during the Renaissance, but Bernini broke out naturalism into a strong emotionalism. This David sculpture completely broke the unique calm and stability of the Renaissance, expressing an instant, powerful and emotional explosion. If Michelangelo’s style is powerful and full of muscular beauty, then Bernini’s style is elegant and feminine. The marble-sculpted skin is smooth, delicate, and full of eroticism. We can also see such feature in his work Apollo and Daphne,Bernini’s sculpture character of “dynamic moment” is fully demonstrated in this statue: the moment Daphne’s jump to the sky, Apollo’s hand touching her body, and the laurel branch also comes from her hands and feet, beginning to grow. In regard of the texture, the girl’s skin is moist like a ceramic, the muscular lines of the young arm muscles, the flowing feeling of the clothes brought up by running, the tenderness and delicateness of fresh leaves, the rough bark … are all represented on the same piece of marble. The entire work was in a dramatic state of intense movement. Marble seemed to lose weight in the hands of Bernini.
It can be summarized that Michelangelo emphasize the structural lines of David(ARTH, 2013). Bernini emphasize the trend of movement. David of Michelangelo is structurally stable and determined. The viewer’s line of sight will be relatively fixed. In the strict sense, the side and back views are weaker than the front. Bernini’s David, the body trend is shaped into a spiral structure, the viewer’s line of sight will be guided by this structure, involuntarily follow the spiral structure line to walk around the statue, every different viewing angle, you can feel the extremely strong exercise tension (because your current line of sight will always be led by the spiral structure to the other direction), which is also a feature of Baroque sculpture, and to some extent this is an evolution for Renaissance sculpture. But the sculptures before Baroque also have their advantage, that is the viewer can instantly know the best viewing angle, the so-called front. The Baroque sculpture often confuses the viewer on this issue. Michelangelo’s David belongs to the Renaissance style, while Bernini’s David is a product of Baroque. A huge feature of Baroque style works is to intentionally emphasize the viewer’s participation and interaction with the work, in order to mobilize people’s religious passion（Brown，1998）. It can be said that Michelangelo’s David only contains himself, but Bernini’s David has strongly inserted the viewer into the work. Renaissance work tried to create a sense of serenity, eternity, stability（Pope-Hennessy，1970）. The sculpture is more calm and idealized. While the work of Baroque is more emotional intensity, it tried to depict a moment in time, so it is more dynamic and full of energy and movement. The figure is often not idealized.
In general, Michelangelo’s David looks more imposing and masculine, and is more familiar to general audience. From him, we can see a rough and concise beauty. As far as I am concerned, I prefer Michelangelo’s David, it reflected the perfect male body; and Bernini has a very high skill in the description of the dynamic, the coordination of power and beauty everywhere, the lines are softer and more delicate, with a masculine and feminine unity, conveying the ultimate pursuit of Bernini portraying the beauty of the human body. The works of the two masters are eternal classics. Even if marble is weathered over time, David’s image will not be forgotten.
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Brown, Douglas. “Italian Baroque Sculpture.” Reference Reviews 12.6(1998):36 – 37.
Pope-Hennessy, John Wyndham, Sir. “Italian High Renaissance and Baroque sculpture.” Art Bulletin 47.3(1970):378.
Elet, Yvonne. “Italian Renaissance and Baroque Sculpture: Material, Manufacture, Meaning, and Movement.” Caa Reviews (2014).
ARTH, et al. “Michelangelo: Sculptor, Painter, Architect, and Poet.” Saylor Foundation (2013).