Thursday, January 08, 2009

Donatello's David - or Hermes?

We've touched on images of David from later times. Thanks to Jutta for pointing to a WSJ story (subscription might be needed to view) about Donatello's David. Here's part of it:

It's practically impossible to look at Donatello's "David," now on display again after extensive restoration at this city's Museo Nazionale del Bargello, without automatically comparing it to Michelangelo's more famous treatment of the same subject, in the Galleria dell'Accademia half a mile away.

The two great Renaissance sculptures differ most obviously in medium and size: Michelangelo's marble colossus stands 17 feet tall; Donatello's bronze, little more than five feet. Stature is in this case inversely proportional to status. Michelangelo's young shepherd, armed only with his sling, has yet to slay his giant foe. Donatello's sword-wielding hero is already triumphant, resting a foot on Goliath's severed head. It's no coincidence that Donatello's 1443 sculpture was commissioned by the Medici family, then Florence's princes in all but name, while Michelangelo made his 1504 work for the defiant Florentine Republic during a brief hiatus in the Medici ascendancy.

Yet if he meant to celebrate monarchical power, Donatello portrayed it with ambivalence. The face of the decapitated Goliath is unmistakably more peaceful than the pensive visage of his conqueror, who seems to foresee the trials (such as his scandalous love for Bathsheba, and the death of his rebellious son Absalom) that will beset his reign. Another revealing touch appears at the statue's base: the little toe of David's right foot curled up under the toe beside it, a mark of imperfection reminding us that the handsome priest-king is not god but man
And here's Wikipedia's article on the statue, with its interesting suggestion that this might not be David at all, but Hermes (one has to wonder about that helmet). It seems some Greek tales have Hermes slaying Argos in a way quite reminiscent of David and Goliath:
 To free Io, Zeus had Argus slain by Hermes. Hermes, disguised as a shepherd, first put all of Argus's eyes asleep with spoken charms, then slew him by hitting him with a stone, the first stain of bloodshed among the new generation of gods. [8]
Further odd fact:  "There are only three exact replicas of [Michaelangelo's] David. One is at the Ringling Museum in Sarasota, Florida." via Absolute Astronomy.

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