BERNINI, Gian Lorenzo
(b. 1598, Napoli, d. 1680, Roma)


Carrara marble, height 170 cm
Galleria Borghese, Rome

The Renaissance versions of this subject (by Donatello, Verrocchio and Michelangelo) show David in tranquillity with the head of Goliath or the sling-shot as attribute. Bernini, on the other hand, represents David in action, in the very moment of shooting.

It was Cardinal Scipione Borghese who commissioned the statue of David, confronting the giant Goliath and armed only with a sling, executed between 1623 and 1624 by twenty-five year-old Gian Lorenzo Bernini. The oversize cuirass leant to David by King Saul before the encounter lies on the ground with the harp David will play after his victory, which is decorated with an eagle's head, a symbolic reference to the Borghese family.

The number of points of view the sculptor intended to present to the spectator is still a matter of conjecture. The right side shows David's movements, his stride is almost a leap as he aims his sling; seen from the front the pose is frozen, just one second before the fatal shot, and seen diagonally there is a rhythmic balance between movement and pose.

According to contemporary sources the head of David is the self-portrait of the artist and Cardinal Maffeo Barberini (who visited Bernini several times in his atelier) himself held the mirror during its execution.