Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Incorporation of Renaissance Ideals in Baroque Art of the 17th century

            The Baroque period of the 17th century incorporates some of the ideals of the Renaissance period, but not all of them.  By comparing Bernini’s sculpture of “David”, which gives a sense of some of the Baroque characteristics of drama and emotion, and a sense of movement, with Michelangelo’s “David”, we can get a sense of Renaissance characteristics and those that define the Baroque period.

            In Michelangelo’s “David” we can see the Renaissance period’s interest in Classicism and in Humanism, balance of form, naturalism, and idealism.  David’s naked form is posed in the contrapposto stance and bears a similar composition to the “Spearbearer”.  Both bear weight on their right leg, which is fairly straight, while the other leg is relaxed and bent slightly back.  The right arm hangs loose and relaxed straight along the body, while the other arm is bent.  Michelangelo’s David seems still.  The composition is fairly vertical and balanced with the relaxed appendages balancing out active ones.  The lines of the body, the legs and the figure’s right arm form fairly straight lines.  There are a few slight vertical lines with the figure’s left leg, the bent arm and the angle of the jaw, which is shown in profile.  The body is frontally orientated, with just the head twisted and shown in profile.

            There’s an interest in naturalism.  Michelangelo has carefully rendered the muscles and tendons on David’s arms, stomach, legs, and neck.  He even idealized the figure by making the figure older than Donatello’s figure of David.  Instead of a youth, we see a young man at the prime of life, who is healthy looking with very defined muscles, even in the groin muscles (which couldn’t naturally get so defined), no wrinkles, scars, or flaws.

            Bernini’s sculpture of “David” still shows an interest in humanism, an interest in the human form, and an interest in naturalism, but we see much more interest in the Baroque style of drama and motion rather than the interest in visual harmony.  His figure, like Michelangelo’s, depicts a young man in peak physical condition.  There is an interest in naturalism of the Renaissance period, which can be seen in the defined muscles of the leg, stomach, and arms.  The very defined muscles suggest some idealized rendering, but there is also more of an interest in naturalism than in Michelangelo’s David.  Bernini depicts the tense lines of the furrowed brow and the lines that can be seen under the eyes, and the hair that looks disheveled by the wind.  He also shows an interest in the different textures of the hair, the smooth skin, the small sack, and the drapery of cloth, and the scaling of the garment at David’s feet.

            In composition Bernini’s David is drastically different from Michelangelo’s David.  Instead of the Renaissance’s interest in balanced composition and depicting a David that is thinking and contemplating his next move before taking action, Bernini’s David is a dramatic twisting form that is at the peak moment of action, a Baroque characteristic.  The sense of drama is strengthened by the use of strong diagonal lines formed from the leg going back and the arm that is reaching down on the figure’s right side.  There aren’t the straight vertical lines like there are in Michelangelo’s figure, instead there is a dramatic twisting of the hips, arms and shoulders, with the neck twisting in the opposite direction of the shoulders.  There is an active sense of tensed action and movement, and because the figure isn’t frontally aligned, it encourages viewer interaction by encouraging the viewer to look at the figure from other angles and move around the body, another characteristic of the Baroque period.  Another characteristic that encourages viewer participation is that the figure seems to step forward with his front leg into the viewer’s space and the rock, according to the figure’s gaze, seems to be intended for someone standing behind the viewer.
            By comparing Michelangelo’s David from the Renaissance period with Bernini’s David from the Baroque period, the viewer can get a sense of Renaissance ideals that were still incorporated in the Baroque period, along with the characteristics that define the Baroque period.  We can see the incorporation of the Renaissance ideals of humanism, naturalism, and some idealism.  From Bernini’s statue, we can see the Baroque period’s interest to show even more naturalism through the lines around the eyes and the interest in texture.  We can also see the interest in drama and movement instead of visual harmony.  Bernini’s figure also encourages viewer interaction, which is in keeping with the Counter-Reformation guidelines for art of the Roman Catholic Church.


  1. I really enjoyed reading your post. I think that with all the action and drama behind it, Bernini's David is so much more interesting to look at than Michelangelo's David. Like you have mentioned, the different textures in Bernini's David show us that Baroque artists concentrated much more on the humanism and naturalism of their work than the Renaissance artists.

  2. I personally think that Michelangelo's David is more interesting to look at...I agree that Bernini's David incorporates more action and movement, but all of that at once diverts my eye away from it, like my first reaction is a sense of being overwhelmed. Looking at the relaxed and naturally alluring pose of Michelangelo's David sparks my attention and makes me want to look over every detail; there is a flow about his form that pulls my eye along the whole path of his body. Pretty intense.

  3. It's comparisons like this that make me love art history. It is so interesting to see how artistic periods are different and similar and why those changes came about. The mix of religion and personal style of Bernini's David makes it the more interesting of the two (to me at least). He used the biblical imagery demanded of the time, and I'm sure of the man who commissioned this, but added his own touches such as a self portrait with his face being David's.

  4. I have to agree with Emily. Bernini's David Doesn't do it for me. I enjoy the fact that he tries to esentually include me into the action but I almost feel that without having Goliath on the other side of the room, its incomplete.