The Baroque period of the 17th century had both incorporated and rejected the ideals of the antecedent High Renaissance art. Like High Renaissance art, Baroque art focused on making idealized and natural artwork. However, Baroque art introduced a way of involving the viewer into the artwork that was new and differed from High Renaissance art, which instead kept the viewer at a distance. The composition and diagonal movement in the space are two of the features of Baroque Art that originated intense emotional responses in the viewers.
These features are reflected in Bernini’s David and they contrast Michelangelo’s David. While the realism and dynamism of Bernini’s David make it a typical Baroque work, Michelangelo’s David high idealization and more static and solid pose make it a typical work of High Renaissance art. The statues represent the same character, the David who beats Goliath, and they both embody the ideal of male form in a natural setting rather than posed. Michelangelo and Bernini were able to give personality, emotion, and quite nearly a soul to their works.
In this sense, the statues are similar because they both were innovative with respect of the ancient tradition that created works that were perfectly balanced, but not as perfectly evocative. However, there are some differences between the two David : the timing of the action that they capture, their physical characteristics, and their involvement with the surrounding space. While Michelangelo depicted a David who is contemplating a task ahead of him, Bernini captured the young man already involved in the action that will mark his success.
This is where the differences between the statues originated: Michelangelo’s work had to manifest confidence, focus and controlled emotion, all necessary for a man who is preparing for something; Bernini’s had to be all about the determination involved in the heroic act and its dramatic character. Michelangelo’s David shows focus, confidence, and controlled emotion through its stability. The statue is shifting his weight in contrapposto from one leg to the other. The head that is dramatically shifted to the left counterbalances the distribution of the weight, thus also enhancing the stability of the statue.
The attention to the details of the almost dilated pupils, knitted brows, and half-opened mouth, contributes to the dramatic character of David’s expression. This expression leads the viewer into understanding that the young men is staring into space, seemingly preparing himself psychologically for the battle ahead of him rather than standing straight to manifest pride for its victory. However, the pose of David’s body clashes with his concentrated glaze. David is in a relaxed pose with a slingshot over his shoulder, while his facial expression does not convey relaxation at all.
This pose conveys artificiality to the statues and also compromises its involvement with the surrounding space and the viewer that inhabits it. Michelangelo’s David appears victorious and confident, but, in doing so, it doesn’t connect with the viewer in a way that he or she can relate to it. Additionally, because, differently from Bernini’s David, the gaze of Michelangelo’s statue is directed onto the left rather than to the front, it doesn’t project energy in the direction of the viewer and doesn’t communicate with him as much.
Bernini’s David looks in the direction of the viewer, as if his adversary was behind the viewer. Bernini’s David intrudes in the viewer’s space also through its dynamic pose and involvement of space. David is portrayed while he is loading his sling and wining up to hurl the stone at Goliath. To render the dynamism of this action, David’s body is twisted and his gaze points ahead of him, in direction with the viewer and creates a connection with him.
Additionally, the twisting of the body allows for it to be viewed from different angles and under different points of view. In doing so, the percentage of space that interacts with the statue and its observer is greater than the space that that involved in Michelangelo’s David. In contrast with Michelangelo’s David, whose facial and body expressions did not match, the facial expression of Bernini’s David is coherent with his body. David’s facial expression is that of a young men who strains and grimaces with an effort that is echoed by his body.
Additionally, Bernini’s David is more mature, with his lean, sinewy (fibroso) body, tightly clenched mouth and straining muscles, is all tension, action and determination. A final difference between the statues is the variety in texture. Bernini uses various effects of the marble to create extreme differences in its texture. The texture of Bernini’s David changes from his hair versus his body, versus the tree trunk. Michelangelo did not do this. Although he worked the marble in a remarkable way, it is evenly smooth and does not vary in texture.
Despite their differences, both sculptures support the idea that the artist behind them wanted to convey. Michelangelo’s David captures the moment of concentration through the extreme stability of the composition; David is stable and set with gravity. Bernini’s David renders the dramatic action through dynamism and engagement of the viewer; as a result, the statue shows almost a disregard for gravity. Michelangelo’s David is there to be admired, he stands for the supremacy of right over might. Bernini’s David is there to shock the viewer and move with him in the surrounding space.