Today we went to the Accademia Gallery near San Marco Square in Florence to see Michelangelo’s original sculpture of David. He completed this sculpture from a single piece of marble when he was only 23 years old, forever changing the history of art. The statue was erected to signify Florence’s independence as a city-state in 1504, depicting a young, strong, man preparing to attack the giant Goliath. Its equal had never been seen and it was immediately heralded as one of the masterpieces of the Renaissance. When someone asked Michelangelo how he was able to complete such a masterpiece he said that the man was imprisoned in the stone and he merely took away the pieces of stone that did not belong to the man inside. This tells you something about the kind of artist he was.
The people of the Renaissance saw the body as the image of the soul, therefore a beautiful body spoke to the integrity of the soul as well. Knowing this makes the image of David even more beautiful. Michelangelo was able to sculpt this masterpiece because he believed in the dignity of the human person, a dignity that he captured through his beautiful artistic interpretation of a young man.
Let me tell you, it was breathtaking. The detail was mesmerizing and when you consider the fact that it was executed in stone it becomes even more amazing.
But I was also enamored by a series of seemingly unfinished sculptures Michelangelo was working on for the tomb of the Pope, who died sooner than expected, causing the new Pope to drop Michelangelo’s funding before he completed all the sculptures. There were several of these statues, and they are known as the “Slave” series because the men are still imprisoned in the stone. Although Michelangelo could have finished these statues and sold them for a lot of money, he never did. When asked why he said that he couldn’t finish them, not because he lacked the skill, but because he had lost his faith in human dignity. Quick history lesson: Between the time that Michelangelo was 23 and when he was about 45, the artists and leaders in the Renaissance saw themselves being close to gods. Then everything started to fall apart. Michelangelo was starting to lose faith in the intellectual empire that had overreached its bounds. He was no longer able to sculpt the god-like attributes of David because he no longer looked at people the same way.
I found this very interesting because it shows both what humans are capable of, and what they are not. There is a need to recognize our humanity and maintain a sense of God if we are to maintain our belief in dignity. Just something to think about.
Learn more about the unfinished sculptures here or more about David here.
[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="478" caption=""David" by Michelangelo"][/caption]
[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="400" caption="One of Michelangelo's "Slave" sculptures"][/caption]