In an effort to abate the threats represented by obstreperous youth, the adult community instituted social mechanisms for taming the independent wills of their sons. Adolescent confraternities and informal secular brigades channeled the energies of young men into the city’s ritual life; ecclesiastical schools and private humanist tutors inculcated Christian values and a deep respect for elders.
In both its representation and reception the statue ignites the homerotic gaze only to extinguish it. The statue does not leave the homoerotic gaze unpunished. Goliath is beheaded, and the active and desiring eyes of the viewer are –morally– shut with the Philistine’s. It is precisely this moral trumping that makes the homoeroticism of the David both licit and effective.
Sometime in the mid-1400s, The Medici Family of Florence deemed Donatello qualified for commission of the family’s art. Created for Palazzo Medici, this statue was first displayed in his courtyard, making it the first freestanding nude sculpture since ancient times. Before this piece was created, most still believed that nudity should not be used in majestic and beautiful context, or to represent gods, heroes or athletes. However, this David sculpture brings back the heroic sense of nudity from classical times since it depicts David after his victory over Goliath. The representation of David in their courtyard suggests that the Medici’s believed that they were responsible for Florence’s prosperity and freedom.
Donatello, David, late 1420s-late1450s. Bronze 5′ 2″ high. Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence.
Goliath’s beard curls around David’s sandaled foot, as if the young hero is running his toes through his dead opponent’s hair. Goliath is wearing a winged helmet. David’s right foot stands firmly on the short right wing, while the left wing, considerably longer, works its way up his right leg to his groin.
There are no indications of contemporary responses to the David. However, the fact that the statue was placed in the town hall of Florence in the 1490s indicates that it was not viewed as controversial. In the early 16th century, the Herald of the Signoria mentioned the sculpture in a way that suggested there was something unsettling about it: “The David in the courtyard is not a perfect figure because its right leg is tasteless.”  By mid-century Vasari was describing the statue as so naturalistic that it must have been made from life. However, among 20th- and 21st-century art historians there has been considerable controversy about how to interpret it.
- Donatello: studying ancient Roman art: displays classical knowledge of contrapposto + large-scale bronze casting of the ancient world
- During the Middle Ages: had not seen human-scaled bronze figures until the David= first free-standing nude figure since classical antiquity (Ancient Greece/ Rome)
- Donatello displays ancient Greek and Roman art of the naked human body
- Middle ages: a period when the focus was on God and the soul and didn’t create nude art
- first free-standing nude figure since classical antiquity
- 5 feet tall
- Material: bronze
- intimate, beautiful and vulnerable: warm tones of the bronze and small size: feel a closer connection
- sensuality which contradicts that this is an old testament subject/ not a biblical representation
- Gruesome head vs with beauty and sensuality of young David= Donatello depicted David’s innocence (instead of more masculine and frightening) in such a gruesome event
- the bronze: smooth the seams and the surface and to cut in details (like the hair): just like Greeks/ Romans
- intimacy: the nudity, the expression of the face, and the stance of the body
- Contrapposto: natural stance very similar to ancient Greeks/ Romans
- Free-standing: detached from the architecture gives it the freedom to move in the world, show expression, and communicate with you + contraposto= humanistic
1. Donatello’s original marble David statue, sculpted during the first decade of the 15th century, has several younger siblings, including one sculpted by the artist himself approximately 40 years later. Italian artist Verrocchio sculpted a version of David in 1475 while Michelangelo created the most famous depiction of the youth around 1501. Lesser-known David statues include a bronze by Bellano in the late 15th century and Bernini’s marble David in the 17th century.
Donatello created two statues depicting David during his career. His very first commissioned work was a marble rendition of the biblical hero created around 1408. It was a fairly traditional piece that Donatello created in his early twenties, and did not feature what would become his trademark naturalism. Its possible that his study of David’s character could have informed his later and much more popular bronze statue of David and the Head of Goliath.