A Donatello Sculpture Exhibition for the Ages

Florence

Donatello’s “David” (c. 1435-40) presides over the grand, second-story hall of the Bargello Museum, elevated on a higher base than previously (though one shorter than the sculpture’s original 6-foot-tall column). In contrast to Michelangelo’s muscular and manly version across town in the Accademia, Donatello’s “David” is a slender adolescent, wearing only fancy boots, a helmet that resembles a sun hat, and an enigmatic, downward-cast gaze. Although other artists were exploring the nude during this period, inspired by ancient Roman sculpture and newly expanded subject matter, Donatello’s “David” still surprises. Look closely, and you notice an extraordinary, sensual detail: a feathered wing, attached to the helmet of the head of Goliath at David’s feet, climbing up his inner thigh. What gave Donatello the license to give the biblical story of heroism such an original, even erotic, spin?

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