Gianlorenzo Bernini, David, 1623

13 Aug

During the Counter-Reformation (the official Catholic reaction to the rise of Protestantism), Gianlorenzo Bernini sculpted a life-sized sculpture of David for Pope Paul V’s nephew, but the intended audience was actually for Catholic pilgrims. An important aspect of the Counter-Reformation was the use of art as propaganda. Churches were lushly and richly decorated to help convince the pilgrims of the power of the Catholic religion and a new bronze baldachin, or canopy, was added to the altar of St. Peter’s, all of which exemplified the Baroque predisposition for extravagant displays. Bernini’s David is no exception. Portrayed at the moment of battle, David infringes forcefully on the viewer’s space. The sculpture captures David as he launches the stone at the giant Goliath. There is a lot of movement in this sculpture with David bending at the waist and his arms twisted to one side. David’s clothing twists dramatically around his body accentuating the power David is putting behind the stone. At his feet lays his discarded armor. His face is full of emotion and he seems more human-like, more relatable. David shows intense determination with his clenched jaw and furrowed brow. The energy and tension of David’s body activates the space around him implying the existence of an opponent.

Due to the Protestant Reformation, the ability of Bernini’s David to draw people in was important to the Catholic Church. The Church was being severely questioned by its followers and was beginning to lose its power, creating the need for art to be used to bring people back to the church. Art was made as theologically correct as possible in order to pull Catholics back to their faith. Viewers of Bernini’s David were able to place themselves in David’s place and connect with the Church because of his energy and human-like characteristics. The interaction that took place between the Catholic pilgrims and Bernini’s David convinced them of the power and tradition of the Catholic faith and helped direct them back into the Church’s arms.


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