Art History Formal Analysis: Bermini Sculpture by David
In this article, I will be focusing on the sculpture of, “David,” by Gianlorenzo Bermini. Bermini was a well known architect in the mid-seventeeth century in Rome, Italy where he operated out of. According to Gardner’s Art Through the Ages, “Architect, painter, and sculptor, Bermini was one of the most important and imaginative artists of the Italian Baroque era and its most characteristic spirit.” Although architecture is what put him on the map; he is almost equally well-known for his handy-work with marble. Fine examples of this handy-work are “Ecstasy of Saint Teresa,” “David,” “Apollo and Daphne,” and “Pluto and Persephone.” However as I stated above, I will be focusing on the attributes of the sculpture of “David.”
What makes this sculpture so unique; is not that it is completely original. On the contrary, we have seen the character David portrayed a few times through sculpture; once by Donatello and the other by Michelangelo. It is unique because of the style, manner, and perspective in which it was done. In regards to style and manner of this piece the biographer, Filippo Baldinucci claims, “He gave his works a marvelous softness…making the marble, so to say, flexible.” The muscle tones and smooth surface give the illusion of realistic skin and body form. This form also holds more “props” which compared to Donatello and Michelangelo’s renditions gives it a natural element. In Donatello and Michelangelo’s David the character is portrayed with very little surface color change and it is just the character taken out of his element. Bernini leaves David in his element. These “props” are also part of the story. His armor has been shed because he did not feel the need for them, because he knew that God was protecting him and he could fight better without them.
For those who are unfamiliar with the biblical story of David, I will give a short summarization of the event. David is famous for this battle with the giant, Goliath. The battle was provoked by Philistine warrior, Goliath. He repeatedly challenged the Israelites for a battle, telling them to send out their best warrior. Obviously when they sent tiny little David up against six foot nine inches tall Goliath, he thought he was in for an easy victory. However, David surprised everyone when single-handedly he took out Goliath with his slingshot.
In regards to perspective and with this biblical story in mind, Bermini did a fantastic job of telling this story through this stationary piece. “David” is what art historians call a ‘sculpture in the round.’ If you see this piece in person, you have to walk around the piece to catch the whole story. It is almost sequenced in time, from when David takes the stone from his pouch, to when he winds back, and finally to the release point of the stone. Out of all of the times that this character as been portrayed, Bermini was the first one to place David in this specific time in history. Bermini shows off his skill of precision throughout the whole sculpture, but especially in the young warriors facial features. His concentration and anger are dramatically conveyed. This sculpture stands at 5’7” which is an accurate height of David. This also gives you the illusion that he is standing right in front of you, and that the battle is also taking place in front of your eyes due to Bermini’s wonderful portrayal of time sequencing. Accordint to our textbook, “Bermini’s sculptures are expansive and theatrical, and the element of time plays an important role in them. His emotion-packed David seems to be moving through both time and space.
This sculpture in no way shape or form can be confined to a niche in a museum or church. It is far too life-like and has too much energy housed within its marble. The story of David is alive in front of you every time you view this piece. If you are ever at the Galleria Borghese in Rome, Italy this is a must see. Bermini was the first artist since the Hellenistic period that created a piece that “came to life” in front of you. I believe this was Bermini’s intention. It was an intention that was more than accurately portrayed it was successfully portrayed. Bermini was at the forefront of this “alive sculpture” revolution and he definitely made his mark on artistic history.