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David: Michelangelo vs. Donatello

Updated on July 9, 2012

Introduction

The sculptures of “David” that were created by Michelangelo and Donatello are so different that the only thing I can find in common with them is their title. Donatello’s sculpture is bronze, stands only five feet tall, and appears to be a young, possibly teenage boy. Michelangelo’s is marble, approximately eighteen feet tall, and seems to be fully-grown man. Donatello’s work seems to have more Greco-Roman and Hellenistic influence than just the pure classical Greek hero influence of Michelangelo’s. The differences are amazing because even with them, we can still recognize the same character in each of them.

David by Donatello, 1428-32
David by Donatello, 1428-32 | Source

Donatello's David


Donatello’s work is more pure to the Biblical story, showing us a teenage boy who vanquished Goliath, and then stands tall and proud over his foe. He holds a sword in one hand, and a stone, we assume from his slingshot, in the other. Donatello includes a local reference, including a Tuscan shepherd’s hat. This David is one who has stepped from the pages of a Bible, not sure of what is still in store for him in the future.

The original David of Michelangelo; the statue stands 5.17 meters tall.
The original David of Michelangelo; the statue stands 5.17 meters tall. | Source

Michelangelo's David


Michelangelo’s work shows an idealized David, one that is ready for his future. He has very large hands, a trait often used by artists to show the importance of the person in the image they capture. This David is obviously a hero, and although a very great one, doesn’t contain quite the same power to me as Donatello’s. There is great beauty in both works, but we expect Michelangelo’s “David” to win. He looks ready to meet a challenge and emerge victorious. Donatello’s “David” is more of a boy who has been given the power to complete a great deed, and we are surprised at the strength that he can show. The statues reflect this, and the differences in them tell us how differently the two creators viewed the story.

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