“David” by Bernini
“David” by Bernini is a life-size marble sculpture depicting the biblical David, about to throw the stone that will bring down Goliath, whom he then beheads. Compared to earlier works on this subject such as the David of Michelangelo, the sculpture broke new ground in its sense of movement and its psychological intensity.
This sculpture shows a key event from the Old Testament during the war between the Israelites and the Philistines. Goliath was the battle champion of the Philistines, and he challenged the Israelite army to settle the conflict by single combat. David is a young shepherd who has gained fame as the king’s musician but accepts the challenge when no one else steps forward to defend the Israeli cause.
David refuses the king’s offer of the royal armor and faces Goliath with just a stone from his sling.
“When the Philistine [Goliath] arose and came and drew near to meet David,
David sprinted toward the battle line to meet the Philistine.
And David put his hand in his bag and took out a stone
and slung it and struck the Philistine on his forehead.
The stone sank into his forehead, and he fell on his face to the ground.”
Bernini shows David clothed as a typical shepherd, and at his feet lies the armor of Israel’s King, Saul, given to David for battle. The armor is shed by David, as he was unaccustomed to it, and he had faith that he can fight better without the constraint of the heavy armor. At David’s feet is also his harp. The harp was often included as an iconographic device for David, which references to his skills as a harpist.
The biblical David was a favorite subject among artists and had been treated by sculptors such as Donatello (c.1440s), Verrocchio (1473-1475), and Michelangelo (1501-1504). Bernini’s David, though influenced by these works, adds to the art form in different and significant ways. This sculpture was one of many commissioned to decorate the villa of Bernini’s patron Cardinal Scipione Borghese, where it is exhibited today, as part of the Galleria Borghese.
David and Goliath
In modern usage, the phrase “David and Goliath” denotes an underdog situation, a contest where a smaller, weaker opponent faces a much bigger, stronger adversary; if successful, the underdog may win unusually or surprisingly. The phrase is widely used in news media to characterize underdog situations in many contexts without religious overtones.
Echos from the Iliad
A story very similar to that of David and Goliath appears in the Iliad, written circa 760–710 BCE, where the young Nestor fights and conquers the giant Ereuthalion. The young hero receives divine aid, and the giant is left sprawling on the ground. Nestor, fighting on foot, then takes the chariot of his enemy. The enemy army then flees, and the people acclaim the boy-hero. The armor described in Samuel appears typical of Greek armor of the sixth century BCE. The settlement of battle by single combat between champions is a characteristic of the Homeric epics such as the Iliad, rather than of the ancient Near East.
In Jewish traditions, the Talmud stresses Goliath’s ungodliness, such as his taunts before the Israelites. He also boasted that he had captured the Ark of the Covenant and brought it to the temple of Dagon.
In Islamic traditions, Goliath appears in chapter 2 of the Qur’an, in the narrative of David and Saul’s battle against the Philistines. Muslim tradition sees Goliath as parallel to the enemies that Muhammad faced.
Gian Lorenzo Bernini
The sculptor, Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598 – 1680) was an Italian sculptor and architect. As the leading sculptor of his age, he is credited with creating the Baroque style of sculpture. Also, he was a painter and a man of the theater. As an architect and city planner, he designed both secular buildings and churches and chapels, as well as extensive works combining both architecture and sculpture, especially elaborate public fountains.
- “Then David said to the Philistine, “You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the Lord will deliver you into my hand.” – First Samuel
- “Giants are not what we think they are. The same qualities that appear to give them strength are often the sources of great weakness.” – Malcolm Gladwell
David by Bernini
- Title: David by Bernini
- Artist: Bernini
- Year: 1623–24
- Medium: Marble
- Dimensions: 170 cm (67 in)
- Museum: Galleria Borghese
- Name: Gian Lorenzo Bernini
- Born: 1598 – Naples, Kingdom of Naples, in present-day Italy
- Died: 1680 (aged 81) – Rome, Papal States, in present-day Italy
- Nationality: Italian
- Movement: Baroque style
- Notable works:
Explore Italian Museums
- The Vatican Museums
- Capitoline Museums
- St. Peter’s Basilica
- National Roman Museum, Museo Nazionale Romano
- Galleria Borghese
- Santa Maria delle Grazie
- Sforza Castle Museums
- Brera Art Gallery, Pinacoteca di Brera
- Museo Poldi Pezzoli
“Giants are not what we think they are.
The same qualities that appear to give them strength
are often the sources of great weakness.”
– Malcolm Gladwell,
Photo Credit: Gian Lorenzo Bernini [CC0]