The Bargello Museum’s David is one of Florence’s most renowned artworks. Donatello created this bronze statue around 1440, for the Medici family. With his David, the Florentine sculptor created the first free standing nude sculpture since ancient times, and gave his statue a new expressivity that guaranteed it a place in the pantheon of art history.

The David by Donatello paved the way to a real artistic revolution, inspiring artists of his own and future generations. The Renaissance of sculpture was born. And the David was going to become one of Florence‘s long-lived symbols.

bargello museum david
Bargello Museum, bronze David by Donatello (around 1440)

Donatello’s David at Bargello Museum in Florence – Art & Facts

Why is the Bargello Museum David so famous?

While during the Middle Ages statues were used as decorative elements (often on church facades), Donatello created an impressive, freestanding sculpture. One could walk around it to appreciate all the details from every angle. And what details they were! Donatello’s David was not only very expressive and disturbingly graceful – he was stark naked, apart from the hat and sandals. And looked real, in a way that was unprecedented at the time.

His pose is almost irreverent, sensual. With his left hand resting on his hip, he seems to wink at the viewer with an half smile, while still holding the stone he used to hit Goliath before decapitating him. The sword used for cutting off the giant’s head rests at a weird angle, giving the body even more movement. A new, revolutionary style of sculpting was born.

Did you know? Originally David’s hair was gilded so that it looked like gold.

Who was David? Biblical hero

The Statue of David is one of the symbols of the Renaissance in Florence. But why? What did David represent at the time? The Bible tells us the story of David, the adolescent shepherd – from the tribe of Judah – who defeated Goliath the giant with his sling. This ‘bright-eyed handsome young man‘ triumphed, using his faith in God and tremendous courage against the brutal violence of his opponent. The young shepherd ended up becoming king of Israel, uniting all Jewish tribes under a single monarch.

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David and the Medici – A Symbol of Virtues and Victory

The Republic of Florence – where Cosimo de’ Medici was gaining popularity and influence – chose this emblematic story to represent victory of the virtuous. Like David, Florence incarnated moral values and courage against brutal enemies. It was a small Republic fighting for its freedom against great powers. That’s why the subject of David became very popular during 15th century Florence. Cosimo Medici commissioned the Florentine sculptor Donatello, a close friend of his, to create the statue for the Medici residence – Palazzo Medici Riccardi.

=> There are also other meanings attributed to the Bargello Museum David by art critics. Some say he represents humanism winning over paganism, mental strength and intelligence over basic human instinct. Or it might be a symbol of divine love defeating earthy love.

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Classic influences in the David by Donatello

Some art critics have also underlined the fact that the Bargello Museum David looks very much like Mercury, the pagan god. Elements such as the winged hat (petasos) and the sandals were attributes given to the Roman deity. And it would have suited the Medici that Mercury was – among other things –god of commerce and financial gain. It was an apt symbol for the immensely wealthy Florentine family of bankers and merchants.

Donatello travelled to Rome on various occasions to study first hand the ancient statuary. He wanted to learn the rules of ancient art, especially the proportions of the human body used in statuary and the use of material and techniques. By depicting his hero naked, Donatello was following the ancients: the human body’s ideal beauty was a symbol of power.

How may statues of David are at the Bargello Museum?

Donatello’s first statue of David was made out of marble, and it’s also at the Bargello – in the Salone Donatello (or Donatello Hall). It’s an early work by the Florentine sculptor (1408), not so innovative in style. The features are less expressive, the pose more static. There are classical elements in the figure, but still the Gothic taste stands out, like the cloak covering the body.

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David by Donatello (1408)

The other statue of David in the Bargello is by Andrea Verrocchio (around 1469). It’s clearly inspired by Donatello’s sculpture – the pose is almost identical – but there are substantial differences. Verrocchio’s David is not naked, but dressed like a pageboy, and certainly lacks psycological depth.

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What is the difference between Michelangelo’s David and Donatello’s David?

We saw how Donatello paved the way for many other artists, giving rise to the new Renaissance style. Florence has another – even more famous – statue of David, the one that Michelangelo created in 1504. The most obvious difference is the size: Michelangelo’s David, made of white marble, is 5 meters tall. While the David by Donatello is around 1 and half meters.

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David at the Accademia Gallery – Image by christian hardi from Pixabay

The Bargello Museum David looks young, his body smooth and slender. Michelangelo gives life to a giant David, with massive hands, muscled and physically powerful. Also, while the first looks victorious after the killing, standing proud on the severed head of the enemy, Michelangelo represents David just before the act, his gaze filled with tension.

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bargello museum david

= >Did you know? There’s an Italian Cinema Award given out every year by the Accademia del Cinema Italiano named after the Donatello’s David: the “David di Donatello” Award.

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