Mind Over Matter: Unpacking David And Goliath

Bernini’s David was made on commission as one of three sculptures created for the Borghese family villa in Rome. At 170cm tall, this marble statue tells the biblical story of the battle between David and Goliath, portraying the moment David winds up his torso, about to strike his implied foe with a sling and stone in hand. While previous renditions of the story, such as Michaelangelo’s David, portray the youth in a stoic, archaic light, Bernini breaks the traditions of his predecessors by utilizing a combination of physical and psychological elements to present a man in the height of battle, tense in both mind and body. His gaze and pose project outward, forcefully confronting the audience head-on as if they were Goliath themselves. The way one can see and feel the tension, concentration, and determination creates an empathetically driven piece that moves the audience in a way that neither Michaelangelo nor Donatello’s distant, godlike David’s could achieve.

David’s pose alludes to a previous and future action. The suit of armor laying at his back foot indicates the moment before the battle in which David strips himself of his armor before facing Goliath. His torqued body, gripping the sling and stone as well as intense outward gaze create a dynamic line of action as if he is about to strike the enemy before him, representing the events to come. This progression of events is enhanced by the tension held across the entire body. His muscles strain due to the laborious physical action being executed, exemplified through the clenching of the hands and feet. His facial expression also expresses the same tense aura as evident by his furrowed brows and how he bites his lip, sucking them in with intense concentration. Not only does the face add to the physicality of the piece, but it also acts as a driving force for its psychology.

On David’s face, his strained expression presents more than just tension. It portrays his immense concentration and determination for the task at hand. The facial expression was so instrumental to the piece that Bernini used his face as a reference to accurately represent “vivid” and “realistic” emotions. Using his own face, Bernini creates a humanized David, meant to enhance the emotional experience of not only David himself but of the audience as well. By focusing on the internal psychology of David’s rigorous battle with Goliath, Bernini also presents an external psychology experienced by the viewer. From a front-facing view, the audience is met by David’s fierce gaze that projects outward, past the viewer, onto the imaginary foe behind them. Because he advances in this way, the viewer is left with a sense of sympathy as they too are subject to David’s intense emotional weight. This joining of physical and mental intimidation provides for a unique take on the story of David and Goliath by inviting the viewer to sympathize and fight alongside David instead of acting as a passive observer.

07 July 2022
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