David, the biblical hero and future king of Israel who achieved victory over a tyrannical adversary, was embraced by Florentines as a symbol of liberty and good government. Verrocchio’s bronze statue presents him as an elegant youth standing in triumph over the head of the giant Goliath, the leader of the enemy Philistines. David holds Goliath’s sword in one hand and rests the other on his hip in a gesture of confident triumph. This impressive sculpture was commissioned by the Medici who sold it in 1476 to the Palazzo della Signoria, the seat of government at the heart of Florence.
Verrocchio’s David would have invited comparison with an earlier sculpture of the hero by the artist’s renowned predecessor, Donatello—the first monumental bronze statue since antiquity. Donatello rendered the boy nearly nude and lost in contemplation, while Verrocchio’s youth is extroverted and wears a lavish close-fitting jacket with gilded ornament, demonstrating the master’s experience as a goldsmith. This may be Verrocchio’s earliest statue cast in bronze, with an exceptionally smooth surface and details achieved partly by carving the cooled metal with chisels.