Cosimo de' Medici Commissions Donatello to Sculpt his Bronze David
Around 1430, Cosimo de' Medici, the foremost art patron of his era, commissioned from Donatello the bronze David (now in the Bargello) for the court of his Palazzo Medici.
This is now Donatello's most famous work. At the time of its creation, it was the first known free-standing nude statue produced since ancient times. Conceived fully in the round, independent of any architectural surroundings, and largely representing an allegory of the civic virtues triumphing over brutality and irrationality, it was the first major work of Renaissance sculpture. Also from this period is the disquietingly small Love-Atys, housed in the Bargello.
The nakedness of Donatello's bronze David stands out starkly in contrast to the other fifteenth century images of David. Even though other works show knowledge of the Donatello bronze, like the hand holding the sword in Bellano's David or the hand on the hip in the Master of the David and Saint John Statuettes, David, none of them repeat the nudity of the Donatello. The choice of bronze, the nudity, and the contrapposto pose all put this work in the Humanist context of emulating the antique. While referencing the classical contrapposto pose in the tradition of Polyclitus's Doryphoros, Donatello has softened the static balance and firm stance of the traditional male figure. This softening is evident in the placement of the two hands as well as the way David's free leg gently rests on the head of Goliath. The smooth, polished skin is set off against the rougher boots and curly locks of hair. This reference to touch is especially apparent in the detail of the feather stroking the inner thigh of David's leg and in the detail of the way David runs his toes through the locks of Goliath's beard. There is a disjunction between David's refined and graceful pose with the apparent reverie and beauty of the facial expression and the gruesomeness of the decapitated head of Goliath at his feet. It is hard to imagine this beautiful youth has moments ago had been engaged in mortal combat and cut off the head of Goliath.