During the Renaissance art started to represent something much greater than just a religious scene, it represented power, humanism and the rebirth of knowledge. In this essay I will talk about how this concept of art was revealed during the Renaissance.
For the most part, the Medici ruled the city of Florence. This is important because at the time Florence was considered to be the creative center of Italy. There are several reasons for this; it had a long history of civic patronage, it considered itself a semi-democratic republic, unlike most cities in Italy, and it also developed early humanistic ideas through the discovery of ancient manuscripts (Strathern, 98).
At this time art was a tool for controlling the city; it showed that the commissioner had money and knowledge of the arts. This elevated their social status, and Cosimo de Medici was considered to be the king of the city. At a certain point, he commissioned Donatello to produce a statue of the biblical David. The David was significant in more ways than one and I think it symbolizes some of the main ideas of the Renaissance.
The David represents the spirit of the Florentines, as he slays the Goliath, who represents tyranny. But it is also a message to the rising oligarchy of the time; Warning them not to mess with the Medici “this was how the Medici saw themselves, as upholders of a just republic against any who would seek to tyrannize it”. The David was also a symbol of the rising Humanism, which acknowledges the significance of the human being as an individual and gives importance to ethics and values developed by them, rather than just following the rules and values of the church.
The statue shows the David in a relaxed contraposto position, with one foot resting on the severed head of the Goliath. But there is certain sensuality to it, as the feather, from Goliath’s helmet, slightly strokes the inner thigh of the David. This can be viewed as an embodiment of Donatello’s homosexuality but it is also a statement saying that art is no longer just a piece that represents a religious or mythological scene, but it is also a part of the artist, it is a way for him to express himself, even through such a subtle detail as the feather.
The development of Humanistic concepts was a slow process; and at first it only brought about subtle changes in the art world. The depicted scenes and themes were still religious but they had a more human approach. The subjects were depicted in a more familiar and relatable way, for example, Fra Angelico’s Annunciation. This fresco shows an angel announcing to Mary that she will be the mother of Jesus. There is a clear shift from the iconographic, byzantine style to something more simple. The artist tells the story in an ordinary but intimate way “these holy figures were seen less as transcendental or metaphysical figures and more as they might have lived in the reality of their human lifetime; this new art would seek to teach man about himself, and his world, in an almost scientific manner”.
By discovering new techniques for creating the artists would guide the people into a new age. Knowledge that was lost during the Dark ages was now beginning to resurface. The statue of the David by Donatello, is also a representation of this knowledge. In this time period an artist was not solely this but also a scientist, who had to experiment and discover new ways for creating his art pieces.
The David is the first free-standing, bronze sculpture since the classical period of ancient Greece and Rome. There are many examples of artist rediscovering truths like Ghiberti’s bronze doors, which introduced a brand new way of casting bronze or Brunelleschi’s dome, of Santa Maria del Fiore, which uncovered the lost techniques in the world of architecture and engineering. “Once again art required science; at the very onset of the Renaissance these two were inseparable, advances in one proving impossible without advances in the other.”. Art representing individualism (concepts of humanism), power, discovery of new knowledge and what it means to be a human being.