Differences in the Baroque and Renaissance Art

Bernini’s and Michelangelo’s David Statue

Baroque and Renaissance periods are both very important and influential in the history of world art. They are known to follow each other and have much in common, though with distinct differences. The Renaissance era started in 1400s in Italy, and the Baroque period followed in the 1600s.  The main difference between the two art epochs is the difference in style.

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In this essay I will examine the two works of art of these periods, two statues of David by Bernini and Michelangelo.  David is the Biblical character who defeated giant Goliath. This Biblical plot has been used as the central of many works of art.  Both sculptors have portrayed the same character but in two different ways, and in two different manners inherent in Renaissance and Baroque epochs.

First the statue was sculptured by Michelangelo and it shows motionless and emotionless statue of the David, who is going to fight Goliath.  The later work by Bernini is more expressive and shows the opposite image of the David.  Bernini’s David is full of tension; he is shown in motion during the fight.  This difference presents the main and the most fundamental distinction between the two art periods. Renaissance works, focusing on the true to life and full of depth depiction lacked emotionality and movement. Baroque works, on the contrary, tended to capture the image in movement and emotional tension. This principal difference can be well examined on the example of the two statues of these epochs.

Michelangelo’s David is nude. He is the embodiment of man’s beauty; he is perfectly built, following the laws of symmetry. He is motionless and rising aesthetic admiration. He stands still, giving the spectator possibility to examine and admire.  He is relaxed and self-contained. Michelangelo has celebrated the perfection of the human, so typical for the Renaissance art; his statue has at the same time incorporated the elements of Greek art.  One more typical feature of the Renaissance used by Michelangelo is that he used long clean lines in his work - the hands are longer than normal and arms are bigger than usual men’s arms. This type of statue is intended to be viewed from the front.

Bernini’s David is shown in action. He is not nude, sculptor used more round forms. The attention paid to the details makes the statue more bound to the flesh and bone. All the proportions of the body are perfectly followed.  Every vein and every joint is portrayed with much detail, all the muscles are seen in tension, showing all the force and all the rage in David during the fight. His face is strained and he is full of energy and vigour.  His figure can be examined from all angles, providing fascinating true to life portrayal of a fighter.  He looks alive and moving, whereas Michelangelo’s David stands still in time and space. He is tranquil but at the same time concentrated and a little concerned.  Bernini’s David is the embodiment of the physical strength and bravery; he is a warrior. He is portrayed in true to life size, and the Michelangelo’s David exceeds the height of a normal human.

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At the feet of the Bernini’s David is his armour – his shed and his harp. This suggests that he interacts with the surroundings. On the contrary, Michelangelo’s statue is detached from the surroundings.

By showing David in action, in the heat of the battle, Bernini has immortalized the moment.  On the contrary, looking at the Michelangelo’s statue it is not clear whether the battle is over or it has not started yet.  He has immortalized the person, the character, which was of more importance in Renaissance era, whereas in Bernini’s statue the theatrical emotional moment is frozen, the element of the Baroque style is brought into the art.

Michelangelo and Bernini have both departed from the traditional depiction of the David the victor with the Goliath’s head at his feet. Michelangelo portrayed youthful and beautiful statue of the future hero. This statue was the first to portray nudity after the ancient art.  Bernini David’s face is concentrated and it is serious, he is a mature warrior.  Looking at him it seems that the next moment the stone behind him will tear down his tunic and the sculptor has chosen this moment in order not to expose nudity, which was of no importance for the Baroque art.

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Baroque art has adopted many features from the Renaissance art, but nevertheless it has introduced new trends that influenced the further development of art.  Opposing to the Renaissance idealism, Baroque introduced naturalism.  Bernini’s David looks realistic, like ordinary human, whereas Michelangelo’s David looks more like a god.  Baroque art has also added emotional vivacity in the art, departing from the stillness and perfectness of Renaissance.  All these differences can be fully seen in the two statues by Bernini and Michelangelo. Though they depict the same character and are made of the same material, they differ greatly due to the epochs they were created in and both statues can serve good typical examples of pieces of art of the appropriate art period.

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