David. Donatello. 1440-1460 CE. Bronze.
Let’s address the elephant in the room. The art history curriculum includes Donatello’s David but not Michelangelo's, which is arguably 1000 times more famous. To some, this is baffling. When you think of David, the strong and idealistic marble sculpture by Michelangelo comes to mind. If you search up "David Sculpture" on the internet, Michelangelo's masterpiece appears.
So, why is Donatello's David included and not Michelangelo's? There are most likely multiple reasons for this. First, Donatello's David was innovative and pioneering, which I will discuss more later. Second, the AP probably did not want two works by Michelangelo because the Sistine Chapel is already included.
The sculpture, created during the Renaissance, embodies the biblical story of David and Goliath, which goes as follows. David is a young man who defeats the giant Goliath using a slingshot and a rock. Then, David takes Goliath's sword and beheads him.
David stands with his hand on his hip, clutching Goliath's sword and the rock he used to slay him. Goliath's severed head is beneath him at his feet. The sculpture resembles ancient Greek and Roman sculptures for a few reasons. First, David is in contrapposto position and has a sense of movement. When Donatello unveiled his sculpture, it would have been groundbreaking because for so many years before the Renaissance and during the Medieval Period, sculptures were stiff. Second, it is a return to the ancient Greek and Roman appreciation of the human body. Think back to Doryphoros and how it is an example of the perfect human body. There is a similar sense here seen by David's muscle definitions.
Quick note: As you can tell, David's body is childlike. Donatello chose to portray him this way because he wanted to send the message that David triumphed with the help of God and not physical power.
A Controversial Piece
Of course, every brilliant work of art comes with a little controversy, and David is no exception. The work causes debate because it represents a biblical topic but has a sense of sensuality to it at the same time. In the sculpture, David stands nude with his hands on his hips and only wears cowboy boots and a hat. In addition, a feather from Goliath's hat rides up David's inner thigh. David's sense of sexuality is undeniable.
As I have continuously mentioned, Donatello was innovative in so many ways with this sculpture. Donatello's David could be a perfect piece for a comparison essay on the FRQ section of the AP Exam. I can imagine the prompt asking you to compare it to an ancient Greek or Roman sculpture like Doryphoros. The AP could even ask you to compare it to Michelangelo's David. If this is the case, consider how Donatello made David so youthful while Michelangelo's David is a grown man.