Analysis of Donatello’s “David” Sparks Discovery

Based on our analysis, the first major Renaissance sculpture is also the most important one for the period: Donatello’s David, commissioned by Cosimo de Medici for installation in the courtyard of the Palazzo Medici, in Florence. Trimmed with gold leaf, this light-bronze statue by Donatello (Donato di Niccolò di Betto Bardi) is recognized by art historians as being not only his most famous work but also a “supreme expression” of Renaissance spirit. The significant factor always reported is that it was the first free-standing (360-degree viewable) nude statue to be made since the “classical antiquity” that the Renaissance was understood to be rebirthing after the Dark/Middle Ages. 

In addition to the well-known features and factors that have made this David so prominent and popular, PluribusOne™ Consulting has made a discovery that makes everything previously recognized about the statue merely an introduction to the statue’s significance. Moreover, our discovery has broken ground for a new perspective on, and understanding of, the purpose and importance of the entire Renaissance. But, before we reveal the keystone that triggered our elaborate find, we need to lay more groundwork: 

David exhibits “contrapposto,” a stance where the figure is slightly twisted as weight is placed primarily on one foot, causing the upper torso to shift off-axis in order to maintain balance. In short, such statues exhibit a natural pose found among statuary made as far back as about 500 BCE. That same life-like posture was revived from Classical Antiquity by Renaissance artists. The earliest example of a statue representing the contrapposto breakthrough in art is Kritios Boy, from ancient Greece—about 480 BCE. 

This bronze rendition of David by Donatello—his first was much earlier, and marble—is generally believed to represent either the forces of civilization conquering barbarism or an assertion of the political dominance of Florence over Milan or the Medici family over business rivals. It is further a matter of general belief that Donatello got the idea for the statue’s design from images found on Greek vases together with some influencing by Brunelleschi. Of course, there is more upon which historians have fixed their attention, based on their understanding of cultural currents and undercurrents of the day. 

Although our discovery warrants book-length treatment, the “keystone”—which emerged unexpectedly in the course of our ongoing research toward solving a different mystery—can be revealed in one paragraph. First, the insight: the Medici, enlightened leaders of Florence, were sponsoring a rebirth of knowledge predating the ancient Greeks by thousands of years, knowledge that was in direct conflict not so much with Milan or rival banking families as with the Holy Roman Church. Now, here is the keystone: 

An artifact that surfaced in 1926 yielded a revelation previously unnoticed. This artifact, like Donatello’s effeminate rendering in bronze, is bronze and iconic: a feminine figure exhibiting “contrapposto.” The same leg is bent at the knee. One hand is on the hip with the other arm down at the side. It expresses confidence in victory. And, it has matching symbolism which is too involved to summarize meaningfully in a blog post. The fact is, because there are many similarities, Donatello must have used that ancient icon, or a description or drawing of it, as a model. And what was the origin of this statuette that exhibits 5th century BCE design qualities? It was unearthed in the Indus Valley where a culture existed as long ago as 9,000 years. The artifact is an estimated 4,500 years old—two thousand years before Kritios Boy.

[See Image File #34, Dancing Girl of Mohenjo-Daro, and compare it to #33 Donatello’s David. See also the March, 2014 post: “Coupling David and the Dancing Girl.”]

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6 Responses to “Analysis of Donatello’s “David” Sparks Discovery”

  1. Sara B. Says:

    How do you know the figure is iconic? Clearly Donatello did not work from the statuette archeologists found in the Indus Valley.

  2. PluribusOne™ Says:

    That the figure is iconic is certain because it is not the only one to have been found. Although the second girl’s pose is reversed, it makes her all the more similar to Donatello’s “David.”

    Because two such statuettes are known to exist, and were made by using the lost-wax method of casting, others must have been produced, and they are small enough (about four inches tall) to be portable. We see them as fertility symbols that were probably manufactured in large numbers and would have made their way west in the course of commercial interactions. More will be found.

  3. Stan Q. Says:

    Doesn’t it make a difference that one is a statuette and the other is a statue?

  4. PluribusOne™ Says:

    Both required the same insight and skill to render them in such a way that they can stand on a base and not fall over. Depending on the material, to make a large and heavy statue can present unique challenges, but the two works in question are both bronze and the basic design principles are the same.

  5. Stark Raven Says:

    In my reading of the post I see seven similarities between David and the Girl, which is remarkable but can you supply one or two more to seal your case?

  6. PluribusOne™ Says:

    First: The hand that is down at the Dancing Girl’s side is stylized so that it forms the bud of a lotus flower, a fertility-dance gesture. The arm down at David’s side is holding Goliath’s bronze sword, the unique pummel, or pommel, (top-end) of which is also of that lotus bud shape. The fleur-de-lys pattern represents a lotus bud that has opened/blossomed. The heraldic shield (coat of arms) of the later Medici popes included six balls, and on the one at the very top are three fleur-de-lys symbols. The lotus is universally a symbol of both creation and rebirth (Renaissance).

    Pommels serve as balancing counter-weights, and the Renaissance effort was definitely intended to serve that cultural function. Sometimes the pommel also served as a bashing device. In a separate and intensive study of sword pommels we found nothing like the one on the end of the sword held by Donatello’s “David,” further supporting our contention that the design was borrowed from the “Dancing Girl.” Cosimo would have understood and intended the symbolism.

    Second: Our assertion that Donatello’s statue not only memorializes the past defeat of the biblical Goliath but also represents a threat to an as yet undefeated “Goliath” is that David’s left hand is holding a stone. If the statue were simply a memorial portraying that point in the bible story where David has just beheaded the man that he first killed with the stone, the left hand would be empty. Instead, a stone is there, and visible. Perhaps he has recovered the very stone that killed Goliath. In any case, David is right-handed; the stone is being held in reserve, like a warning or secret weapon.

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