He Tried to Beat Michelangelo

Every time Bernini looked at Michelangelo’s David in the Piazza di Signoria it struck him as a bit static. It also seemed that more could be done in the way of realism.

David, by Michelangelo, in the Accademia, Florence (Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported photo by Rico Heil, published here)

He had heard Michelangelo praised for bringing life to his figures and Bernini considered that it would be easy to give his own David more life. He read the Bible story and he could just see the young David in action. Michelangelo had a great imagination—everyone said so—but maybe he, Gianlorenzo Bernini, had a greater one. Michelangelo´s figure, when you came right down to it, didn´t really illustrate the story very well. You couldn´t actually picture any action. You only saw a handsome young man shifting his weight from one leg to the other. And who could guess, unless he knew the story, what the youth was doing with that strap over his shoulder. It looked more like he was carrying his jacket. It was bad illustration, if you could forget your piety for the Master and say so. And who knew that there was a stone in his big right hand or what it was for?

The longer Bernini thought about it the more excited he got. Of course he could do it better! He was going to carve a David that would make Michelangelo´s look sick. To start with he would take the shepherd boy at a better moment—a moment later than the one Michelangelo had chosen. He would do his David just when he was loading his sling and winding up to hurl the stone. That was another flaw in the Master´s figure: it was no good from the back and, truthfully, no good from at least one of the sides either. Bernini would twist his David so that you discovered wonderful things no matter where you stood to take it in.

And the face! Michelangelo´s David looked as though he were posing for his picture—so relaxed in spite of the frown. A man who was fighting for his life would be focused on his weapon and his adversary—there would be time to be indignant later. Bernini would follow nature—wasn´t that the rule?—and have his David strain and grimace—grunt—with the effort, the way he really would have! Bernini worked frantically on little models until he had the pose. He knew it would be the greatest David ever carved. People would gaze at it and know the Bible story. He would have brought it to life for them. And they would praise him for his intelligence as well as his artistry.

See a larger version here

A 3-D view of Bernini’s David by the Universität Siegen and  licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Germany.

They did praise him and they still do. That´s a real David, all right—believable, realistic. Does it rank even with the Laocoön? Did he beat Michelangelo?

Here are the two Davids, side by side:

Photo published at Wikispaces

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I am adding this reply to a comment by Rafaela made below:

Thank you for this interesting comment.  It has made me think about the Davids again. Two years ago I published a post here called He tried to Beat Michelangelo. My purpose was to make students look at the differences between the two Davids—Bernini’s and Michelangelo’s. Now I want to add here and to that post that Bernini was no American frontier sculptor who sat alone and figured things out himself, as one might gather from my staging of his thoughts: he is challenged by Michelangelo’s David alone, as though there were nothing else in the world to beat.

But as you say, he was surrounded by older artists and intellectuals who gave him a different direction already from the time he was a child.
He almost certainly did NOT have Michelangelo’s David in mind when he designed his own. Rather, he was much more impressed by the Hellenistic statue of the Gladiator, which had been recently unearthed and stood in his patron’s private collection, where it was much praised;
http://www.mlahanas.de/Greeks/Arts/Gladiator.htm

and by figures like this one by Annibal Carracci, who at the time was also working for Cardinal Borghese
http://acefalis.mforos.com/266217/1671560-polifemo-y-galatea/

And as you also say, a new David wasn’t even Bernini’s idea but was a commission. And this was not the first figure where he experimented with a new dynamism. It was preceded by at least three real masterpieces: the Neptune and Triton, the Pluto and Proserpine, and the Daphne and Chloe—all astonishing works, not only because of their originality but because Bernini was yet in his mid-twenties when he sculpted them.

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59 Responses to He Tried to Beat Michelangelo

  1. Aryul says:

    I wouldn’t say he beat him overall, but that version of David demands just as much respect (if not more).

  2. 100swallows says:

    I like Bernini more all the time, Aryul. And he can be pretty when he wants to. Here in his David beauty was simply not a priority as it was with Michelangelo.

    • April says:

      hmmm define beauty by my own defenition I think it was likely a priority in both. …. beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Subtle peaceful beauty was michelangelo… well defined musculature and something to look at from all angles was Bernini. Both are beautiful it is all in what you appreciate/see when you look at them. There is no defined criteria for beauty nor for works of art. This is a very nice comparison makes you look closely and appreciate both even more.

      • 100swallows says:

        Thanks, April. You are right, I know, but I will never stop wondering about beauty. There’s something deeper (i.e.,that affects me and others more) about Michelangelo’s conception of it and I feel it but can’t make others see it if on their own they don’t. Did you see one of my comments below where I admit that Bernini was probably not trying to beat Michelangelo with this but other artists of his time? Terribilitá was out.

  3. Robert says:

    Could you tell us what source you have gotten your information from? Best Regards

  4. 100swallows says:

    I made this up, Robert. It’s a device, a way of making readers look at the Davids and think about the differences between them.
    I knew about Bernini’s ambition—how his dad had brought him up to be a great sculptor. I knew he had Michelangelo on his mind all the time and that people around him did too and constantly compared his work to the Master’s. But mostly I got my ideas of what he probably thought by looking closely at what he did.
    The big authority on Bernini is Wittkower. I recommend Howard Hibbard’s Bernini in Pelican Classics (paperback). That’s a good little biography with pictures of his basic works.

  5. Artbuff says:

    We can mock the David, scorn it, criticize it, admire it, compare it with others, but no matter what we do, Michelangelo’s David stands as the PREMIER symbol of what mankind can and should be. Enjoyed this piece!

  6. Pingback: Leonardo da Vinci vs. Michelangelo « The Best Artists

  7. erikatakacs says:

    I look at the two Davids as equals. Each sculptor had something different in mind, so who beat who is irrevelant. I admire both of them. We all know Michelangelo enlarged David’s hands, but now I see for the first time his neck is extremely thick and the head very large compared to the rest of his body, probably for the same reason as the hands. His base/support is so impressive both technically and aesthetically. It’s economical and it doesn’t get in the way. It’s almost invisible. Bernini handled proportions and gesture amazingly, but his excess of accessories and the confusing mass that supports the figure detract from the otherwise perfectly carved figure. They get in the way.
    Overall of course they’re some of the best works of art ever produced.
    Swallows, I have to thank you for bringing back this post. It made me look at them with fresh eyes, and discovering new detail I didn’t even pay attention to before.

    • 100swallows says:

      Erika: Michelangelo’s David has an economical base all right. He didn’t want anything blocking the view of his beautiful nude. He threw the sling behind David’s shoulder and hid the stone in his hand. There’s nothing else to show that this is a David. You feel that Michelangelo started out with the nude and afterwards hung on the sign to identify it. In fact, there isn’t even a sign.

      Bernini, however, was telling the Bible story. He started out picturing the battle with Goliath and modelled this action figure. He wisely kept a big piece of rock to support those skinny legs and he decorated it with, converted it into, articles from the Bible story to make it clear who his grunting figure was. There was a long tradition of doing that. Greek sculptors turned their marble support into the gods’ emblems. Apollo leaned on his lyre and snake, Hercules on his lion-skin and club, Aphrodite on her robe, and so on. The trouble here is that Bernini couldn’t stop piling things on. There’s always a temptation for men of a ready imagination to do that. No one ever gave Bernini’s art high points for economy.

      But his support was wiser than Michelangelo’s little tree-trunk. This is an excerpt from one of my first posts about the lack of support for Michelangelo’s big David:

      “A figure with its legs apart may not seem too daring or revolutionary. But IN STONE it isn’t wise. How are those skinny legs going to support all the weight of the rock (torso and head) above them? In fact, there is too much weight on David’s ankles. A recent scan has discovered micro—and not so micro—fissures.
      “A block of stone isn’t a man, even if the great Michelangelo can make it look like one. Living things have learned to defy gravity with muscles (how do the plants grow UP?) but stone just sits and obeys the law. Usually a figure like the David would have been conceived for bronze, which is stronger and can handle, i.e. give support to, representations of almost all human postures and pirouettes.”

  8. Having had the luck to have viewed both Davids ‘in the flesh’ recently, let’s say that Bernini’s works from every angle; Michelangelo’s not so much.

  9. Rich says:

    Very fine refresher and fine comments as well.
    But still, in Michelangelo’s David I find this “calm strength” of the ancient Greek sculptors. It somehow lacks in Bernini’s great sculpture.

  10. Ken Januski says:

    I tend to agree with Rich about the ‘calm strength’ of Michelangelo and ancient Greek sculptors. It’s been a pleasure to view both, though only as these photos, and to read the comments.

    When I was done though, as much as I liked the Bernini, it was the Michelangelo that stood out. That may be partially just due to familiarity. But I think most of it is the ‘calm strength’ and ‘calm beauty’ as well. Bernini’s looks more like an illustration of a moment in time, perhaps a great illustration, but still a picture of a moment in time.

    I had always thought that I preferred this realism to the generalism, or idealism, of classicism. Sometimes classicism can just seem vapid, too disconnected to something in the real world happening in real time. So it comes as a surprise to me to see how much I prefer the Michelangelo. But then he wasn’t your average classicist.

    • 100swallows says:

      Ken: I came the other way. I had always thought Michelangelo’s works were so superior to Bernini’s that there was no contest at all. Then, as I looked more and more at Bernini’s work, I started to see its virtues. Finally I took off my hat. That doesn’t mean I like Mike less.

  11. For a picture of David holding his nose in an ad promoting cleaner air for Italian cities, see the aptly-named blog, Eternally Cool

  12. wrjones says:

    There is something irresistibly elegant about the David by Michelangelo but overall from what (very little) I’ve seen of Bernini’s work I do think it better. There was a documentary on him that claimed one of his workmen did a lot of the work but Bernini claimed credit. Hard to know the truth about such long ago events but Bernini was gifted.

    • 100swallows says:

      Bill: Remember that Bernini’s figure is about life-size and Michelangelo’s is colossal. The problems are very different for statues of those sizes. Michelangelo maybe had at the back of his mind a giant figure like the Colossus of Rhodes, which stood in the harbor with its legs apart for ships to pass under. Bernini would not have made his straining David eighteen feet tall—surely not. That kind of commission calls for another kind of figure.
      If things were done under Bernini’s orders, he has to be given credit for them. He gave his OK.

  13. Madame Monet says:

    I MUCH prefer the Berninni. Furthermore, looking at Michaelangelo’s, my thought is that he must have been gay!

    Madame Monet

  14. judithweingarten says:

    Today being the first day of Roland Garros, it occurs to me that Michelangelo vs Bernini is very much like Federer vs Nadal. One is supremely elegant, the other brilliantly inventive. Both are superb (my money, if anyone wants to take candy from a baby, is on Federer to win in Paris). And, by the way, 100 swallows, the guards LOVED it.

    • 100swallows says:

      Judith: I wish I had watched those two tennis players enough to know if I agree. Your support for the declining Federer is touching but of course has its price and so you shouldn’t make a fellow feel bad about taking your money.
      The guards loved it? Something is something.

  15. Jay says:

    In my opinion Michelangelo’s David is very “safe”. Take a look at Donatello’s David and Verrocchio’s David and they’re pretty much identical poses. The shifting of the weight, the general facial expression and overall aura all seem ridiculously similar.

    There’s no denying Michelangelo made an amazing piece of art, but when compared to Bernini’s it does seem (in retrospect) rather inferior.

    The pose and depth of Bernini’s David directs the viewer’s thought process directly to the biblical anecdote, whereas Michelangelo’s sculpture allows a lot more room to deviate from the original story that inspired it.

    I will place a small critique on the facial expression of Bernini’s sculpture, because it doesn’t seem as energetic as the rest of the sculpture (particularly focusing on the mouth)… but that aside, the piece is flawless.

    • 100swallows says:

      Jay: I don’t know what you mean by “safe” and I can’t agree that those figures are “ridiculously[!] similar”. You sound like Mark Twain who complained about all the statues and paintings of friars and saints in Italy.
      Better illustration of a story and a grimacing face, however more “dangerous” to do, doesn’t yet make a better statue.

  16. judithweingarten says:

    Nadal (aka Bernini) was knocked out of Roland Garros today by Swedish Sonerling: 6-2 6-7 6-4 7-6 . That leaves silkily smooth, supremely elegant Federer (aka Michelangelo) still in the running; not yet declining :-). Somehow, I think I’m going to put my money on Tsonga. Who was the Renaissance dark horse equivalent? Cellini?

    • 100swallows says:

      Judith: Boy it didn’t take you long to come in with that news. I never pay out on Sunday, however. I don’t even know who Tsonga is so you’ll have to decide between sculptors like Giambologna or maybe Sansovino. Cellini was eliminated long before these finals. All these were of course dead when Bernini was grown, so they are very dark horses.

  17. Federer (aka Michelangelo) won in three! You owe me. O rats, it’s Sunday again … and you never pay out on Sunday.

    What do you think of the latest Michelangelo scandal (if scandal it is): Inquiry over ‘Michelangelo’ work?

    Judith

    Visit Zenobia’s blog at Empress of the East

    • 100swallows says:

      Judith: Oh, now I see : I was rooting for the wrong guy: I thought Federer, the Spring-maker, was Bernini (who made those springs holding up the Baldachin in St.Peter’s)! Had I known he was Michelangelo I would never…But I don’t mind handing over my candy.
      Thanks for the link to the video about the wooden figure. Vasari, mentioning works Michelangelo made as a very young man just after Lorenzo de Medici’s death, says: “For the Church of Santo Spiritu in Florence Michelangelo made a crucifix of wood which was placed above the lunette of the high altar, where it still [1568] is.” A footnote to my Penguin Classics translation says: “This is (disputedly) the crucifix discovered in Florence in 1963, carved in white poplar.”
      Is that the same as the latest one? I don’t know. It doesn’t look good enough. I saw a more believable one once in the catalog of an exhibition on the Medici collection.

  18. dhruv says:

    Hi, I really enjoyed your articles. But I have to go with Michelangelo’s David. I have my own reasons for it and would like to share them. My first observation of both the sculpture is that, Michelangelo’s David is more artistically intact where else Bernini’s one is more like an “action figurine”. The way Bernini did is more of a cliché, if a sculptor was given this task; it’s obvious that one of his concept designs for the sculpture would be similar or same as Bernini’s. Ok, Bernini’s David has good sense of proportion, action, facial expression, but for me it’s more like a show off or “ok he can sculpt, so what”??
    Where else Michelangelo’s David is different, unexpected but yet attractive. I believe if you happen to have a high speed camera during a war or in an action sequence and break down the footage in mere frames. You will see that every action has its own beauty. Every action might not be so intense. One of the proof is the eyebrows on Michelangelo’s sculpture. Every frame would have changes but not drastic. Bernini’s David is just a straight copy of his own imagination after reading the story. But for me that’s nothing great, it only becomes great when you imagine and then mould (sculpt) it in your own way. Michelangelo was talented, imaginative and conscious enough to pierce through the story, action and every detail to capture the exact moment of David’s emotions (physical and mental). This piercing act is also shown in his David by not sculpting clothes. This portrays David’s body language. To me it looks as if Michelangelo’s sculpture is living in 2 different time frames. The head and the body are separated. Although the body might look in relaxed pose but to me it’s more like the exact frame or the exact millionth of a second where David’s body is recovering from his previous action and also is getting ready for his next move. Where else his head is different from its body. The head is more locked on and concentrated. Although a sculpture, but his eyes seem that they won’t blink and eyebrows won’t twitch until the task in front of him is completed. After all in the bible story David is only a son of a servant and only takes sling and five stones to fight against goliath. Bernini’s David seems to be more concentrated and shows that he (Bernini’s David) is experienced warrior and has faced situations like these before. Where else Michelangelo’s David still has the innocence & uncertainty of the outcome, this emotion is hidden and intentionally buried behind the persistent concentrated eyes. Bernini’s David lacks these detailed stories hidden in each mark of the chisel on the David by Michelangelo. I might sound like a follower of Michelangelo (although he’s one of my favorite artist’s all time), but I tried to compare both and this is what I perceived. Then there might be a lot of people who like Bernini’s David more than Michelangelo’s, but I’m not blaming them, just sharing my thoughts and observation. If you have any comments or critics please do let me know. Thanks. Will be reading more of your articles. Keep it up, cheers!

    • 100swallows says:

      Dhruv: Thanks for your comment. I’m glad you enjoyed some of the posts. As for the difference between these two figures, I see you have really thought it. “If you happen to have a high speed camera during a war or in an action sequence and break down the footage in mere frames…you will see that every action has its own beauty.” True. But not every moment is good for sculpture. Bernini’s is well-chosen. It is, as you say, an action figure, and Michelangelo’s is not. Bernini’s is illustration, anecdote, with beauty thrown in. Beauty is Michelangelo’s priority. I even imagine that he figured out the pose of his David without giving much thought to the Bible story, only that a beautiful nude was going to shift his weight from one foot to the other. Every feature obeys the demands of beauty first and of an ideal figure Michelangelo had inside him. The frowning face might as well have served for an Adam just thrown out of Eden, a proud Lucifer cast out of Heaven, a Christ coming on Judgment Day, and so on.
      It’s true Bernini’s David looks like a skilled warrior. He also looks too old to be the little shepherd boy of the story, doesn’t he? Michelangelo’s has often been criticized for its adolescent look. Critics said it was wrong to enlarge the body of a man not fully developed. Of course those critics were judging the figure according to strictly aesthetic criteria. They thought there was something unsatisfying in the “unfinished” body of a boy-man, which is how they explained the strange proportions of the figure: its large head, small rib-cage, and so on.

  19. dhruv says:

    thanks for your “fast” reply. i do agree that michelangelo’s main motive is beauty. but, if you accept a normal audience to look at your artwork, first thing to attract them is by beauty. or else they would be ignored (this observation i have well recieved after doing quite a lot of gallery sittings for exhibitions). plus michelangelo’s david was to be placed outside where people could stand and watch for hours, rather than indoors. its also “originally” placed on a pedestal= hieght, which means alterations in propotions. there is a great hieght distance from a viewer to the sculpture (this can be seen from those tourist pictures, especially when they stand next to the fake one, which stands on the original david’s place). there might be a possibility that michelangelo perposely made the body proptions in that way because the audience are going to view it from cirtain perspective (down to up). if he followed the exact anatomy then it would have looked weird from the audiences perspective, thus the big head.
    yes, michelangelo’s main motive was to put beauty, and a cirtain beauty which defines his style. but in the end, this constructive argument will never show us the real winner, because there is no one. i think we cant compare artist and their artwork, since everyone has there own style. thus there is no such thing as the best painting in the world. this might sound crazy, but i really dont believe and trust the critics (no matter how much they know), because in the end its all about how you feel, so something would be right and somethings would be wrong.
    right now if i have to make a conclusion, i can see it in a way, where bernini’s david is the concept design and michelangelo’s david as the final artwork.
    thanks for your comment, will be reading other articles too. feel free to comment!! cheers

  20. Wasn’t Michelangelo’s David originally intended to take its place high up on a butress of the Duomo as a companion piece to Donatello’s colossal Joshua — as part of a program of Old Testament prophets? Surely that accounts for its odd proportions when seen even raised on a platform and on a high pedestal.

    Also, there’s a lot written on the meanings of David as prophet in early 16th-C Florence, especially as a symbol of Florentine freedom, or a new Adam or precursor of Heracles. This multiplicity of ‘meanings’ might explain why he doesn’t look to us as we imagine the OT David. The historical situation might also explain why the Florentine Michelangelo was imbued with a different ideal from that of the Roman Bernini.

    Judith

    Visit Zenobia’s blog at Empress of the East

    • 100swallows says:

      Judith: Can you remember where you read that Michelangelo’s David was originally intended to go on a buttress of the Duomo as a companion piece to the Joshua? Hellmut Wohl in a footnote to my Condivi translation says: “The installation of the David in Florence in front of the Palazzo della Signoria instead of on one of the tribunes of the Duomo, where it had originally been intended to be, gave the figure a political rather than a religious significance…”
      But he doesn’t give a source.
      Neither Condivi nor Vasari mentions that “original intention”.
      Ludwig Goldscheider says this: “The contract between the operai of the Cathedral and Michelangelo is dated 16 August 1501, with a term of delivery of two years and a fee which was subsequently raised to 400 ducats. On 25 January 1504, a conference of artists was held to decide where the David should be erected; among the participants were Leonardo da Vinci [smile Leonardo], Botticelli, Filippino Lippì, Perugino, and Piero di Cosimo. It was resolved that Donatello’s Judith should be removed from the entrance to the Palazzo Vecchio in order to make room for Michelangelo’s David.”
      Of course that was after the statue was actually sculpted. Perhaps the contract stipulated another location.

      As for the meaning of the statue, Vasari has this to say: “…Michelangelo made a wax model of the young David with a sling in his hand; this was intended as a symbol of liberty for the Palace, signifying that just as David had protected his people and governed them justly, so whoever ruled Florence should vigorously defend the city and govern it with justice.”
      This was read and supposedly accepted by the Florentines while Michelangelo was still alive.

      Condivi calls the statue the Giant, which anyway seems to have been its popular name. Michelangelo may well have told him not to call it a David because when Condivi’s book was published the Medici were back in Florence and Michelangelo didn’t want to cause himself any trouble by reminding everyone of his republican days.

      It’s true, the Florentines had a thing about tyrant slayers and freedom. See this history of Donatello’s Judith:
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Judith_and_Holofernes_(Donatello)
      Michelangelo made several Davids or Giant-Slayers or Victories.

  21. The best book I know is Charles Seymour, Michelangelo’s David: A search for identity, Pittsburgh, 1967. Agostino di Duccio first had the commission — and purchased the huge block of marble that ended up being assigned to Michelangelo for David. As far as I remember, it was still intended by the Opera for the cathedral buttress.

    I came across some reference which stressed the multiple meanings of David in contemporary Florence (based on historical events, philosophy, literature) just recently while doing a bit of research for my new Zenobia post, St Zenobius and the Magic Ring.

  22. david says:

    (For the record, I love the sculptures of both Michelangelo and Bernini, and I put them in the same room together in heaven.)

    I say that Michelangelo’s is the greater work of art. In short, it illustrates the spirit, values, and intangible qualities of the beautiful and heroic in mankind that are the highest virtues of great art, whereas the Bernini only illustrates a story. The Bernini is a great action pose, but that’s as far as it goes. It’s shallow and belongs as an ornament in a storybook, whereas the Michelangelo is deep and “piercing” (as dhruv put it), bringing into physical reality the heroic qualities of mankind: beauty, strength, balance, perfection, harmony, courage, integrity, etc.

    The lesser movement and illustrative details (sling, stone in hand) in the Michelangelo are, I believe, superior because they submit the inconsequential biblical story to the more important, deeper meaning that the work of art is meant to show. The heart of the composition in all of the greatest works of art is not about bringing into reality a specific story, but about bringing into reality beauty and the heroic and how they relate to us. These are the things that inspire us as humans.

    The Michelangelo inspires me. The Bernini is interesting, but lacks deeper meaning.

    • david says:

      Who is this idiot talking down Bernini like that?

      I’m sorry, I’d like modify my opinion. I’ve just been looking at other images of Bernini’s David from different angles (which I should have done before posting), and I now see more depth in the Bernini such that my previous argument needs brief amending.

      The Bernini does not lack deeper meaning (as I said previously). It has more expression than I thought, but ultimately the extreme movement and all the “props” (for lack of better word) are so pervasive that they detract from the clearly delineated uprightness and strength that the Michelangelo has.

      The Bernini is certainly inspiring up to a point, but the Michelangelo is endlessly inspiring.

  23. dhruv says:

    to david: i do agree that bernini’s david has more expression, but all that expression is “expected”! its just david throwing the stone, which actually what he does in the story. there is nothing exciting, amazing, different about it. even the action figurines which we get now in our local toy shop are much more expressive than bernini’s one, but then most of you guys will disagree because you might not consider action figurines/ sculptures as art.
    one example i can give you is how movies and their story line are tweeked, especially when they are based on a book or any other source. everything needs changes/tweeking, when inspired or based on something. to me that sculpture is pure show off and as i said before “you can sculpt, so what”??

    by david “The Bernini does not lack deeper meaning (as I said previously). It has more expression than I thought, but ultimately the extreme movement and all the “props” (for lack of better word) are so pervasive that they detract from the clearly delineated uprightness and strength that the Michelangelo has”.
    actually your statement makes me think that bernini was a fool. because if he was professional and “artistic” enough atleast he could have decided on how much props to put. because after the sculpture of david the next thing the eyes will focus on would be the things surrounding him. i think he is clever enough to see that. if he could’nt even do that, then i dont have to say anything…..

    • david says:

      dhruv, I’m not talking about -just- the bodily motion and action of the Bernini as “expression”, I’m talking about the gesture of his face and tilt of his head (that is, the non-tilt in spite of the extreme pose). It all works together to show strength and courage under pressure. Bernini took David’s physical movement to the most extreme point, just before it might look that the boy were off-balance. But he’s not. He’s got a level head and level eyes wrought with controlled consternation, the resulting effect being very similar to that of the Michelangelo.

      I’ve said all this because I don’t want to short-change Bernini. At first glance, his David seemed shallow to me, but there is more expression there than you might think. I still believe the Michelangelo is greater (because of the very reason you’re saying, dhruv). It’s greater because we are having this very discussion: if Bernini’s sculpture were clearer in its meaning and focus (without the distracting extreme motion and “prop” details) then we wouldn’t feel the need to make these points. It might have stood shoulder to shoulder with the Michelangelo, but it’s too busy leaning over.

      • david says:

        Oh, and I wasn’t calling you an idiot, dhruv. I was calling myself an idiot in a rhetorical manner. Sorry if that were misconstrued.

  24. dhruv says:

    hahha, please do not appologize. its ok, its just a constructive discussion we are having, ar’nt we?

    to swallows: thank you for this post and the links too, they were great!! will be reading your past, present and future posts!! really enjoyed it, because of your great posts, i now think i can write well(i think so)hehhee thanks a lot. keep up the great work!! cheers

  25. 100swallows says:

    I am adding this reply to a comment by Rafaela.

    Thank you for this interesting comment. It has made me think about the Davids again. Two years ago I published a post here called He tried to Beat Michelangelo.My purpose was to make students look at the differences between the two Davids—Bernini’s and Michelangelo’s. Now I want to add here and to that post that Bernini was no American frontier sculptor who sat alone and figured things out himself, as one might gather from my staging of his thoughts: he is challenged by Michelangelo’s David alone, as though there were nothing else in the world to beat.

    But as you say, he was surrounded by older artists and intellectuals who gave him a different direction already from the time he was a child.
    He almost certainly did NOT have Michelangelo’s David in mind when he designed his own. Rather, he was much more impressed by the Hellenistic statue of the Gladiator, which had been recently unearthed and stood in his patron’s private collection, where it was much praised;
    http://www.mlahanas.de/Greeks/Arts/Gladiator.htm

    and by figures like this one by Annibal Carracci, who at the time was also working for Cardinal Borghese
    http://acefalis.mforos.com/266217/1671560-polifemo-y-galatea/

    And as you also say, a new David wasn’t even Bernini’s idea but was a commission. And this was not the first figure where he experimented with a new dynamism. It was preceded by at least three real masterpieces: the Neptune and Triton, the Pluto and Proserpine, and the Daphne and Chloe—all astonishing works, not only because of their originality but because Bernini was yet in his mid-twenties when he sculpted them.

    Some classical features were also fundamental to Michelangelo’s work. Bernini’s generation seemed more captivated by Hellenistic figures, with their greater realism and action. You might say he began where they left off. But I wouldn’t call his a “new level”, only a new direction—or theater, say, in his case.
    Bernini’s innovation was to involve the viewer, to reach out. And what you say about his David’s including us in his act is a catchy way to explain the attraction, though I don’t know about the “three dimensions of reality”.

    As for our getting tired looking at him, that was said to explain precisely his departure from the classical ideal of serenity in general. Maybe in fact the figure does keep fascinating us, contrary to the old academic rule.

  26. T. Emerson says:

    I would have to say that Michaelangelo’s David is the more impressive out of the two, but my reason goes beyond marble-deep. Michaelangelo was a critic of the Vatican throughout his life, nobody can deny. Later in life, he became a Spiritualist. But it would make sense that throughout his life he was very much a humanist, which is partially what makes Michaelangelo’s David more impressive both in terms of uniqueness (at the time) and reflective of his much greater fights at the time.

    Of the two, Michaelangelo’s David is definitely the more human of the two. Michaelangelo depicts David as he is trying to make the decision whether or not to answer King Saul’s call for help or not. He fingers the rock, lays the sling over his shoulder, and frowns as he tries to decide – as a young boy – whether or not to take on this giant killer, Goliath. One must remember that in the Biblical story, David answered King Saul’s request for a man to fight Goliath. He was not responding to the Call of God.

    Michaelangelo encompasses all of the fear, the indecision, the anxiety that David would feel before he even announces his intention to fight the giant. The drama in this sculpture is not demonstrative of the conflict between two men, or even between man and God. Michaelangelo depicts internal conflict, which is extremely human. Bernigni chooses a pose and structure after Michaelangelo has already cast the fatal blow, and become God’s Favored, which is what makes Michaelangelo’s – in a historical sense – more heroic. Michaelangelo did not make David a biblical hero, he made him a man. Had Vatican officials not thought that Mike’s David was simply “boring,” they would have seen a much more subtle heroism in it and, possibly, been offended. Bernigni reflects the words of the Bible and gives the public what they want, while Michaelangelo gets under David’s skin to illustrate a part of the story rarely told and which, at the end of the day, is perhaps more dramatic than any of the other Davids.

  27. neeMcM says:

    @ T. Emerson

    What is the meaning you attach to Humanism? I know from this blog and from elsewhere that Michelangelo spent a lot of time reading Dante, and I thought that Dante’s view of the world was what is meant by Humanism, and that it was a concoction of Pagan and Christian legends and Bible stories where Hell became an Underworld and the Prophets turned into Sibyls.

    In Michelangelo’s time even the Pope was a Humanist, but some years ago what was my surprise when I read either Ratzinger or JPII arguing in favour of a humanist revival, so that it seems the concept has become so broad that it will soon include everything alive and hopping. What could the basic meaning be?

  28. Ivan M says:

    I feel kinda stupid re-opening this discussion but i just wanted to add something.

    I absolutely agree that michelangelos david is far superior art work. Bernini is ilustrative and ornamental – it probably is more atractive to people not interested in art, as it has more details, more action to it etc. But to me, all Bernini’s works rarely go beyond the point of ilustrative-ornamental.
    Art does not have to or need to (or should, in fact) serve any other purpose other than being art. And even though “on paper” Bernini’s scultpure has what it takes to deserve comparison to Michelangelo, art cant be valuated and judget in terms of funcionality, approachability, or even the technical quality of execution. Beyond all these material merits there can be, should be – something else which makes the work stand out, and what that is is hard to explain. That’s why visual works are visual and musical works are musical. you just cant describe that with words.

    Also, 100swallows,
    you said that “Serenity and balance were classical features that were also fundamental to Michelangelo’s work.”
    I couldn’t agree less with this.

    Michaelangelo’s work is ALYWAS powerful, engaging. You can always feel some kind of struggle – whether its internal or external. Just take his slaves – compared to anything bernini ever did it’s like untouched stone. No details at all, rough edges. But the slaves are among the best artworks ever for me. You see the stone trying to break free from the stone. To free itself from what its made of. You feel the struggle and agony and you feel claustrophobic just looking at it. Among the most expressive works of renissance, along with donatellos wooden madonna.
    Pehaps i picked out an extreme example, but starting from his first scultpure, the centaur fight, all of his scultures had this power, this immense physicality and still a sense of mistery. Perhaps his most serene scupture is the pieta, but it’s tangibility radiates in an unusually tender, almost sexual way for the given theme (mother and the dead son). I never got the impression that Michelangelo’s purpose was to get the the story across – subject matter was only the starting point for him. And i respect him so much for that, as for mi in this lies much of his innovation. Few other artists of the time dared to be as expressive.

    sorry for all the typos and mistakes, im not from a english speaking country

    • 100swallows says:

      Ivan: Thanks. I agree with you and I have no idea why I might have said that about the symmetry and serenity in Michelangelo’s work. I’ve been cringing all morning. I couldn’t find the quote. Was it maybe in the Michelangelo vs. Bernini post? Of course tension and broken symmetry are two of the emblems of his work. Yes, mystery is what the Bernini (among other things) lacks–that’s good.
      Don’t forget that those Slaves of Michelangelo’s are unfinished work. He never intended them to look like they were breaking out of the stone, which look was the result of his carving method. A Bernini figure carved half-way would have looked just as busting forth.

  29. Ivan M says:

    Yes, you’re right of course about the slaves – even though i like to think he left them that way intentionaly :). Still, what i’ve said applies even to the ones which are almost completed.
    Btw that thing about serenity, i found it in your post, three comments above my previous one.
    I really like your blog, I’ll stick around.
    Are there any interesting forums on art history by the way?

  30. Anonymous says:

    i believe that when you look at michelangelo’s david you hear a long melodious tune, full of harmony at the back of your mind…where as bernini is just like a woosh! and that’s all.. a piece of art which gives your brain a harder and longer time is more artistic. Putting in some taste of confusion in your art might stimulate the viewers thoughts and make him go wild and full of ecstacy. A piece of art should make you feel like a whirling dervish does. Make you forget your body and feel the fire of the soul.

  31. Anonymous says:

    Sometimes It’s not only about perfection and depiction. Moods and feelings of the artist, give artistic strokes to a work. And controlling your work too much is like making it too un-natural. Artists are tought to look at nature for inspiration right?….Well forms of nature are so diverse that they contain a large element of the accidental and still everything is so uniform and in order. Michelangelo used the element of the accidental as he was daring enough. Where as Bernini sorry to say was scared and not sure of himself

  32. Shawn says:

    I vote for Michelangelo’s David.
    In the Bible, David is one of God’s favorite, if not the most. David was never born a warrior or shared any of its traits alike.
    In fact, he was a young boy with full of joy and love in his heart. Just look at Psalms for example. David praised God with joy, love and love and love and love by writing a poetic yet lyrical Psalms. His confession of love toward God in his Psalms is just awesomely powerful. It is so touchy yet so powerful.
    Sure, he is more known for defeating Goliath. But David is THE figure for his love towards God.
    Bernini, was a great sculptor with grand skills but in the artistic view of portrayals of both David statues, I will say Michelangelo wins.
    Michelangelo’s David is just perfect. The way of its posture, face, hands and legs just displays David’s true self.

  33. dt says:

    Bernini brings action to his David. Michelangelo brings psychology to his. I prefer Michelangelo’s David. There are also these subtle details of veins and tendons in Michelangelo’s work that’s missing from Bernini’s more broader suggestions and strokes. He’s able to humanize them like no other sculpture except Rodin.

  34. M says:

    There’s not really a comparison. Both are great. But Michelangelo’s is better in many respects.
    1. Michangi carved this out of a pre existing old damaged, therefore hard to chisel collisal block. The stone was 3 times as hard as a fresh much smaller piece of marble Bernini had.

    2. Bernini shows essentially an illustration of the act of fighting Goliath.
    Michelangelo’s decision is multi layered. He chooses to portray David at the very moment he decides to fight, a much more powerful gesture. Even standing still the impact is stronger than the act of Bernini’s.

    3. Michelangelo’s David is a mathematical representation of God himself. Hear me out, the mathematical balances of David are balanced so well, what we are seeing is A mathematical representation of the divine proportion, God in the physical. At all measurements including the negative spaces, they are superior.

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