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


Carrara marble, height 170 cm
Galleria Borghese, Rome

When he tackled his David in 1623-24, Bernini knew that he was risking comparison with works in a sculptural tradition that included the great names of the artistic culture of the Italian Renaissance, from Donatello to Verrocchio and Michelangelo. He subverted the traditional way of representing David. Instead of depicting the static figure after killing Goliath (as had Donatello and Verrocchio) or the measured strain of the act itself (as had Michelangelo), Bernini once again countered with the dynamic charge of the spiral. It is well known that he took his inspiration from the so-called Borghese Gladiator, now in the Louvre but at the time one of the prize pieces in Cardinal Borghese's collection. From the Gladiator derive the feet planted widely apart and the twisting torso.

In comparison to the earlier celebrated David sculptures, Bernini paid particular attention to the biblical text and sought to follow it as closely as possible. Unlike the earlier sculptures, Bernini's hero has a shepherd's pouch around his neck which already contains pebbles ready to use in the deadly sling which he will use against Goliath. The upper part of David's body is represented immediately after has taken a stone from his pouch. This means that the torso twists and strains not just physically but psychologically. The hero is depicted when, having taken the stone from his pouch, he twists his body in the opposite direction, tensioning it spring-like, then stops to think for a spilt second before releasing the stone that will slay Goliath. All the strain that has been built up shows in David's face, a self-portrait that was executed with Cardinal Borghese's assistance, for he volunteered to hold a mirror up to enable the twenty-five-year-old Bernini to complete his work.

Suggested listening (streaming mp3, 11 minutes):
Johann Kuhnau: The Fight between David and Goliath (No. 1 of the 6 Stories from the Bible illustrated in music)