Art/ Collection/ Art Object

David with the Head of Goliath

Bartolomeo Bellano (Italian, Padua 1437/38–1496/97 Padua)
Italian, Padua
Bronze with oil gilding of a later date
Overall (confirmed): H. 11 1/4 x W. 5 1/4 x D. 4 7/8 in. (28.6 x 13.3 x 12.4 cm)
Credit Line:
Gift of C. Ruxton Love Jr., 1964
Accession Number:
Not on view
This is a key work in the early Renaissance development of bronze statuettes in northern Italy. Its creator, Bartolomeo Bellano, was a disciple of Donatello’s, as is documented by a payment in connection with that master’s Judith Slaying Holofernes (ca. 1459, Palazzo Vecchio, Florence).[1] His independent work began with a bronze statue of Pope Paul II in Perugia (1466 – 67, now lost) and a series of Old Testament subjects in relief for the choir screen of the basilica of San Antonio (Il Santo) in Padua (1484 – 90), which features small-scale figures standing out in high relief from their backgrounds. As we know from Giorgio Vasari’s biography, he went on to execute a number of small metal figures for the pope and for others, and he has been recognized as one of the earliest Italian sculptors to make a specialty of bronze statuettes.[2]

David with the Head of Goliath has long been admired as one of Bellano’s masterpieces in bronze.[ 3] Its debt to Donatello’s famous nude David (ca. 1455, Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence) is reflected in the hero’s pose with hip swung out and one arm akimbo and the gigantic head of Goliath at his feet. Bellano dressed David in a short tunic with many pleats —  Wilhelm von Bode once described the sculptor’s boldly chiseled drapery as like crumpled paper.[4] The youthful victor’s accessories include a gorget decorated with a head, probably of Medusa, in a classical allusion; boots rolled down to the calf; and a shoulder bag, whose strap crosses the right shoulder. His weapons are a sling, still weighted by a stone, and a large sword. Having hit his foe with a projectile —  stones scattered on the base give a sense that the battle has just taken place —  David triumphs over his dead opponent. The triangular gash in the giant’s forehead indicates the cause of death, while the curved blade is clearly the implement that was used to lop off the giant’s head. David’s graceful pose, his limbs in contrapposto, emphasizes his youth and suggests serenity in the aftermath of violent conflict.

Scholars divide over the relationship of this to other small bronzes by Bellano, notably a variant David in the Philadelphia Museum of Art and a Saint Jerome and the Lion in the Musée du Louvre, Paris. Hans Weihrauch saw the Philadelphia example as more clearly derivative of Donatello and believed it therefore to be earlier than the Museum’s David;[5] John Pope-Hennessy followed this line of reasoning in dating the Philadelphia example to about 1466 and the present version later.[6] Museum curator James Draper believed, to the contrary, that the taut pose and sharp faceting of the Museum’s statuette align it with such early works by the artist as the Miracle of the Mule relief in Il Santo (1469 – 72) and that the bulkier body, more static composition, and chunkier faceting of the Philadelphia David reflect Bellano’s advancing style, as represented by the Saint Jerome in Paris.[ 7] Some scholars wondered whether the Davids under discussion are in fact by two different hands, but Draper sees them as from different phases of one career.[8] Most recently Volker Krahn has reaffirmed the early dating of the Museum’s example, calling it Bellano’s masterwork in the small bronze format.[9] A number of later versions testify to the continuing esteem in which this sculpture was held well into the sixteenth century.[10]

[Ian Wardropper. European Sculpture, 1400–1900, in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2011, no. 6, pp. 26–29.]


[1] Volker Krahn. "Bellano, Bartolomeo." In The Dictionary of Art, edited by Jane Turner, vol. 3, pp. 636–67. New York, 1996, p. 636.

[2] Giorgio Vasari. Le vite de’ più eccellenti pittori, scultori ed archetettori. 2nd ed. 3 vols. Florence, 1568. 1906 ed., edited by Gaetano Milanesi. 9 vols. Florence, 1906, vol. 2, p. 606.

[3] Volker Krahn. "Bellano (Belani; Belanus; Vellano), Bartolomeo." In Allgemeines Künstlerlexikon: Die bildenden Künstler aller Zeiten und Völker, vol. 8, pp. 438–39. Munich, 1994, p. 439.

[4] Wilhelm von Bode. "Lo scultore Bartolomeo Bellano da Padova." Archivio storico dell’arte 4 (1891), pp. 397–416, p. 412.

[5] Hans R. Weihrauch. Europäische Bronzestatuetten, 15.–18. Jahrhundert. Braunschweig, 1967, pp. 97 – 98.

[6] John Pope-Hennessy. Luca della Robbia. Itahca, N.Y., 1980, p. 264, under no. 57.

[7] Draper in Italian Renaissance Sculpture in the Time of Donatello: An Exhibition to Commemorate the 600th Anniversary of Donatello’s Birth and the 100th Anniversary of the Detroit Institute of Arts. Exh. cat. Detroit Institute of Arts; Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth; 1985–86. Detroit, 1985, pp. 225 – 26, no. 82.

[8] Charles Avery. "Donatello Celebrations: A Major Exhibition at Detroit, Fort Worth and Florence." Apollo 123 (January 1986), pp. 14–18, p. 18; Bruce Boucher. "Detroit and Fort Worth: Sculpture in the Time of Donatello." Burlington Magazine 128 (January 1986), pp. 67–68, p. 68. Draper dates the Philadelphia and Paris bronzes to the time of Bellano’s Monument to Pietro Roccabonella in the church of San Francesco, Padua (finished in 1498), on the basis of "a markedly blockier approach to modeling"; James David Draper. Bertoldo di Giovanni, Sculptor of the Medici Household: Critical Reappraisal and Catalogue Raisonné. Columbia, Mo., 1992, pp. 35 – 36.

[9] Volker Krahn in Von allen Seiten schön: Bronzen der Renaissance und des Barock. Wilhelm von Bode zum 150. Geburstag. Exh. cat. edited by Volker Krahn. Altes Museum, Berlin; 1995–96. Berlin, 1995, p. 136.

[10] John Pope-Hennessy. The Frick Collection: An Illustrated Catalogue. Val. 3, Sculpture: Italian. New York, 1970, p. 68, lists the known versions. After that book was published, another version came up for sale at Sotheby Parke Bernet, New York, March 23 – 24, 1973, no. 94.
Charles Fairfax Murray ; [ Duveen Brothers , New York; sold to Goldman ] ; Henry Goldman (until 1948; sale, Parke-Bernet Galleries, February 28, 1948, no . 64; sold to Love); C. Ruxton Love, Jr. (1948–64; to MMA)
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