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Italian Renaissance Art: The Davids


Williamsburg, Ky. – Everyone knows the story of David and Goliath. A tiny Israelite boy faces a giant Philistine warrior and kills him with a stone and a slingshot. It’s a pretty spectacular tale of perseverance and the will of God, so it is no wonder that David is one of the most sculpted figures in history.

The second Phi Alpha Theta lecture of the semester, held at 7 p.m. on November 15, was dedicated to some of the more popular sculptures of David. Ms. Julie Wheeler, art department chair at University of the Cumberlands, gave the lecture.

Wheeler received her B.A. degree in studio art from Georgetown College in 1999. She went on to earn an M.F.A. from University of Kentucky, where she was assistant faculty before coming to Cumberland. Wheeler has traveled extensively in Italy, and was therefore the most logical choice to give a lecture on Italian Renaissance art, most specifically the Davids.

Before beginning the lecture Wheeler said, “They [the sculptures] all have other meanings besides their depictions of David,” encouraging the audience to remember that while looking at the sculptures.

The Renaissance began in Florence, Italy, which is where all three of the main sculptures examined in the lecture were created. The first sculpture of David mentioned was Donatello’s version, completed between 1446 and 1460. It was a bronze cast statue, a Medici commission, slightly more feminine than the other two, and interestingly, the first nude sculpture since antiquity.

Next was the Verrocchio David. Few people have heard of Verrocchio, who was Leonardo da Vinci’s master. This depiction of David was sculpted in the early 1470’s and is also a bronze cast. Whereas the other two versions examined are nude, the Verrocchio version is clothed.

Lastly, and probably the most well known, is Michelangelo’s David. A stone sculpture, this David is nude, and close to seventeen feet tall. Michelangelo completed it between 1501 and 1504. Different from the Donatello and Verrocchio versions in that it doesn’t include Goliath’s head lying at David’s feet, it is the only one depicting David holding the stone and slingshot with which he slew Goliath.

Wheeler also showed some other works by the sculptors, and some of the Greek statues that influenced them. The lecture was followed by a short question and answer period where Wheeler answered questions posed by the students and members of the history department.