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The Hidden Story of The 'David and The Head of Goliath' Sculpture

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David with the Head of Goliath, by Bartolomeo Bellano in 1470 was an homage to the original David statue by his teacher Donatello in the 1440s. Bellano’s sculpture was vital in popularizing early Renaissance development of bronze statuettes in Northern Italy. In this sculpture, David is portrayed as an inexperienced adolescent standing over a decapitated Goliath. David is the unsuspected winner of this battle, his innocence lost while looking down in the aftermath of the fight. Through the features of David’s body, the detail in scale, and the elaborate ornamentations, this sculpture symbolizes the young, lean, and untried David, standing over a once thought unbeatable entity thanks to his quick wit, courage, and faith in God.

Bellano’s rendition of David with the Head of Goliath has the hero posing over Goliath’s head with his hand resting on his hip and his elbows turned outward. Bellano clothed David in a short tunic with many pleats, which “Wilhelm von Bode once described the sculptor’s boldly chiseled drapery as like crumpled paper”. The slight erosion of the sculpture over time paired with the detailed pleating of David’s tunic gives the allusion of crumpled paper. David is represented as youthful, accessorized with a gorget adorning his neck, along with boots rolled down to his calf and a shoulder bag strapped across his back. His only form of weaponry are stones and a slingshot, thrown over his right shoulder. When viewing this sculpture, one might be confused as to why David is holding Goliath’s sword. This giant sword was an extraordinary weapon that had the power to kill even the most armored of enemies. Although he did not have the experience to use other weaponry, he took Goliath’s own sword to decapitate him, using it more like a knife than a sword. When looking at the sculpture one notices how awkward and big the sword looks in David’s hand, clearly not made for him. David’s special strength comes from God, and the story illustrates the triumph of good over evil, courage over cockiness. When looking at the statue from its rearview, you can see the stones scattered across the floor, indicating the battle’s intensity and the fact that it had just concluded. David’s stance over Goliath’s head asserts his dominance. The wedge-shaped gash in Goliath’s forehead indicates what ended his life. David’s stance and position of his legs indicate contrapposto, which adds elements of naturalism and flair. The sheer size comparison of Goliath’s head and David show the difference in raw power, yet the scene presents the unlikely winner of this battle. Donatello and Bellano both used stark contrast between the two subjects to catch the viewers eye. This statuette is clearly not a direct imitation of Donatello’s David. The overall political and religious message stays the same however. David, a courageous believer in god, slayed an enemy soldier who mocked his king and creator.

The circular structure that this sculpture is built on was made for viewing purposes. This sculpture was to be easily turned and observed from all angles. The Italian Renaissance was peaking around this time, so it makes sense that a sculpture like this might’ve been commissioned since religious stories were very well-known and depicted often in that time period. When making this sculpture, Bellano left a lot of its imagery up to personal interpretation. Each angle represents a different emotion which shows how David possibly felt throughout the battle. When looked at carefully, the viewer can see certain details, one in particular, that is unclear from the front view. When viewing the statuette from the back, one can see that David’s feet are tangled in Goliath’s hair and beard. When viewing the statuette from the right side, David’s stance seems to make him appear more confident, whereas viewing him from the front he looks like a young child who is unsure of himself. Goliath’s face, as much that can be seen through this statue, looks lifeless with his wide eyes. He perhaps died in shock. David somehow seems very calm for someone who just went through a battle, indicating he didn’t struggle as much when putting Goliath down.

The sculptor chose to use bronze because it was gaining popularity at the time. It was a symbol of wealth and status for elite men as well as a very intricate statue making process. Dora Thornton, author of Objects of Virtue states that, “The buying or commissioning of art objects of different kinds was advocated and justified as a means of building an individual’s honor and public reputation. Spending money on art became an outward sign of [the particular virtues] of nobility, magnificence, splendor, and gentilezza,” or, elegance. The objects most men used to define themselves were largely domestic and included plates, instruments, arms, and, in particular, small bronze statuettes, which were prized for their luxuriousness”. Therefore, the sculptor used bronze. It symbolized excellency and they wanted the David sculpture to embody that. David, the bronze statue is more portable and easier to display in the house. With its gold coating, perhaps an afterthought or an add-on, it looks like a centerpiece that would garner more attention and admiration than anything else in a home. Its size and portability also make it easier to share among different locations and patrons unlike other statues of David which people had to travel to see.

The previous rendition of David, by Donatello, portrays him naked whereas this statue has clothes. The nakedness signifies the battle as more primal and brutish. David also looks a little more built and not as innocent as Bellano’s version. By clothing David in his interpretation of the statue, Bellano highlights his position as a young citizen, not an armored soldier, who had just triumphed in a seemingly unwinnable battle. Bellano’s sculpture also gives more liveliness and emotion to David’s face. He looks sad yet triumphant, innocent and young, yet also changed by his experience.

Over the year scholars and artists have taken on various interpretations and theories regarding the David sculptures. One theory suggests that David was portrayed through a homosexual attitude seeing as David is both physically delicate and effeminate in his stance. When viewing the right side of his face, David’s facial expression seems almost flirtatious, his half-open mouth curved into a slight smile. The erotic tones of this sculpture are masked by an otherwise mannered front. There are layers of eroticism that can be uncovered if examined close enough.

I chose this art piece because although it seemed very small in size and simple, the story behind it speaks volumes. There was a sense of power and respect being gained by defeating Goliath. It shows that even an unlikely warrior can win a battle against brawn with strategy and swiftness. Although this was a tribute to Donatello’s sculpture, Bellano also added his own style and elements to it, in my opinion, improving on the original.    

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The Hidden Story of the ‘David and the Head of Goliath’ Sculpture. (2022, July 07). GradesFixer. Retrieved August 15, 2022, from https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/the-hidden-story-of-the-david-and-the-head-of-goliath-sculpture/
“The Hidden Story of the ‘David and the Head of Goliath’ Sculpture.” GradesFixer, 07 Jul. 2022, gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/the-hidden-story-of-the-david-and-the-head-of-goliath-sculpture/
The Hidden Story of the ‘David and the Head of Goliath’ Sculpture. [online]. Available at: <https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/the-hidden-story-of-the-david-and-the-head-of-goliath-sculpture/> [Accessed 15 Aug. 2022].
The Hidden Story of the ‘David and the Head of Goliath’ Sculpture [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2022 Jul 07 [cited 2022 Aug 15]. Available from: https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/the-hidden-story-of-the-david-and-the-head-of-goliath-sculpture/
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