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  • Michelangelo was the first superstar artist. He was a sculptor a painter an architect a poet and an engineer.

  • An outsider touched by geniusHis Statue of David, the most famous statue in the world,

  • personifies the aesthetics of high Renaissance art, the politics of  

  • Renaissance Florence and the technical  virtuosity of Greek sculpture.

  • The story of Michelangelo's David is anything but the story of a teenage boy king who slew Goliath.

  • In one of his poems, Michelangelo wrote (old Italian: "son d'esser bruto"): I know I am ugly.   

  • His nose was broken and appeared crushed into his face  which he said gave him "the look of a beggar".  

  • He was tortured by his appearance and alienated  from his own body. Despite or perhaps because of  

  • this, he would spend his life in pursuit of sublime  perfection. He could do little about his own looks  

  • but he would make sure his David would be the  standard by which male Beauty would be judged.

  • Michelangelo believed that he was a tool of GodHe wasn't creating a sculpture from marble, he  

  • was simply releasing the figure imprisoned  within it. Unfinished work by Michelangelo  

  • gives us many insights into his techniquesMost sculptors would create a clay model and  

  • then mark up their block of marble to know where  to chip. But Michelangelo worked mostly freehand,  

  • starting from the front and working back. To  sculpt in marble you need the strength of  

  • an athlete and the dexterity of a surgeon. Any  slip-up can destroy years of work

  • Michelangelo would start by what is called "roughing out". Taking the bulk of the weight off with a  

  • point chisel and a large mallet, for getting  it down to the general shape of the sculpture.  

  • Then he'd use a tooth tool and a smaller hammer, for more detailed work in modeling the form

  • As he needed more details, he'd use finer and finer  tooth chisels. He would use a drill to get into  

  • the deeper crevices. Then he would refine using  various smaller tools. Followed by finishing the  

  • surface with a tool like the "rasp", a sort of fileFinally he would polish the statue using abrasive  

  • pumice stones, and then leather until it is smooth  and glossy. If we look at his unfinished work here,  

  • we can clearly see the sculpture emerging from  the stone. The marks we see here were made by  

  • Michelangelo's own hands. The outer part show us  where Michelangelo started to cut away the stone  

  • with a large pick and a mallet, and in this area  we can clearly see he has used a tooth chisel.

  • Here on the chest we see even more detail, and the marks  are fainter where he has used much finer tools.

  • Michelangelo was 26 when he was asked to sculpt  a colossal statue of the biblical hero David,  

  • to be placed on the roof of the Cathedral in  Florence, 80 metres above street level.  

  • Only two years before he had carved the achingly  beautiful "Pietà" in Rome, and he was already  

  • considered a master. He was asked to use an old  block of marble already owned by the cathedral  

  • that had been sitting around for 50 years. Two  other sculptors had attempted to use it but  

  • the marble was flawed, and considered too narrow  to produce a successful figure. One sculptor had  

  • even carved a large hole out between, what were to  have been the legs of his figure, but where others  

  • saw flaws, Michelangelo saw opportunity. Because  of the shape of the marble Michelangelo had to be  

  • precise. There was no room for manoeuvre. David  had to look to the side - as there wasn't enough  

  • marble to have him facing forward - David had to  be in the "contrapposto" position, so that his legs  

  • would fit around the large hole already in the  marble. And he would have to be slender because  

  • of the depth of the marble.

  • The story of David and Goliath is the Biblical story of the Philistine giant defeated by the teenage Israelite,

  • armed only with his sling. The finale of the story is David cutting off his head and holding it up to the cheering crowd.

  • Traditionally David had been portrayed at the point of victory. Triumphant over the dead Goliath.

  • Florentine artist like Donatello and Verrocchio, depicted their own version of David - standing over Goliath's severed head.

  • All statues are more than mere representations, but  Michelangelo's take on it would be revolutionary.  

  • By removing the conventional attributes of  the biblical hero, stripping him down, both  

  • literally and figuratively, Michelangelo also  removes a simplistic reading of it as just an  

  • illustration of the story. And gives it a wider  metaphorical meaning. For the first time in art,  

  • David is depicted BEFORE the battle, rather than the moment of victory.

  • This changes everything.

  • first and foremost Michelangelo's David depicts  rationality. David isn't about to fight Goliath  

  • with brute strength, but with skill and reasonDavid represents the humanist ideal of a man,  

  • who can become a hero, by his intelligence and  willpower alone. These are the virtues of the  

  • "thinking man" considered perfection, during the  Renaissance. Michelangelo catches him at the  

  • peak of his concentration, as he contemplates  the challenge ahead of him. David is no longer  

  • the traditional self-assured boy. Now he is shown  as an apprehensive man. David's neck is tense,  

  • his thigh muscles are flexed, his nostrils are flaredand his brow is furrowed with fear.  

  • He is just about to glide easily and naturally into actionHe is tense but contemplates the challenge ahead of him,  

  • with a calculated gaze. The rock is hidden inside his right palm, the slingshot rests on his shoulder,

  • and hangs down his back - almost invisibleEmphasising that David's victory was intellectual.  

  • His chest appears to pulse with anxiety.

  • Like all of Michelangelo's sculptures, the viewer sees David

  • at a specific and pivotal point. It is not meant to be the whole story.

  • David is in motion. The position he is in, is known as "Contrappostoor "counter pose".

  • It was invented by the ancient Greeks, and is a very natural and human way to stand.

  • The red line show where his muscles are tense, and the yellow ones where his muscles are relaxed.

  • Most of the weight is on one leg, with the other leg forward,

  • causing the figures hips and  shoulders to rest at opposing angles.   

  • Giving a slight "S-curve" to the entire torso, and therefore giving the statue a more dynamic look.

  • The story of David and Goliath would come to represent the city of Florence itself.

  • During the Renaissance, Italy was a collection of city-states, each with its own ruler.

  • The newly independent Republic of  Florence, saw itself as "the David of Italy".

  • Holding out with unexpected strength against the Medicis,

  • and the powerful and all-consuming influence of the Pope in Rome.  

  • This point was emphasised when David was placed in a secular spot rather than its intended religious one.

  • Commissioned as a  statue of the biblical story - in Michelangelo's hands it becomes something else entirely.

  • The proportions of David are not typical of Michelangelo's work

  • The figure has an unusually large head and hands. But Michelangelowho had dissected many cadavers  

  • understood the human body better than any physician. As per the commission, the statue was designed to be seen

  • from 80 metres below. In 2010, a fibreglass replica was temporarily placed in the spot originally planned for David

  • And we can clearly see that the proportions work perfectly when seen from below  

  • Nudity was unusual at the time for a biblical  story, but the Renaissance was a decisive time  

  • for the nude in Western art. A renewed interest in  ancient Greek and Roman art brought the human body  

  • to the forefront of artistic innovation. During  the Renaissance, achievement in representing the body

  • became the standard for measuring artistic  genius. It is far harder to depict a nude figure  

  • than a clothed one. It is a myth though, that  Renaissance Europeans were comfortable with  

  • nude bodies in art, particularly when displayed in  public. In fact, the city fathers had a garland of  

  • 28 gilded copper leaves made, to protect David's modesty, and in later years he wore a fig leafas this photo from the 1860s shows.

  • Why is the Jewish hero David, not circumcised?

  • Again, we can trace this back to the inspiration for the  Renaissance: The ancient Greeks and Romans.  

  • They regarded circumcision as barbaric, and there are  no depictions of circumcision in ancient statuary.  

  • Also, the Catholic Church denounced circumcision in the Middle Ages.

  • The Jewish figure of David has been placed into the Christian context of Florence. A hallmark of the high Renaissance.  

  • It has been remarked that David's penis is rather smallThis was considered an indication of modesty and  

  • respectability, and shows that the biblical figure is in control of his own urges.

  • We can contrast  that with contemporary images of satyrs and other figures which represented evil sexuality

  • David  has a slight squint - it is rarely remarked on but  his eyes point in slightly different directions.  

  • This is a typical Michelangelo trick, to pull us into the eyes of David.

  • The pupils are carved out hollow, to capture the changing sunlight, adding to the intensity of the gaze.

  • Michelangelo calculated every angle and always considered the position of the viewer.

  • The details are extraordinary.

  • My own favourite is the jugular vein, which is swollen. This only occurs when people get excited or nervous.  

  • Michelangelo understood this, over a century BEFORE  scientists would describe the circulatory system.  

  • The veins in the raised left hand are delicatewhile the veins in the hanging right hand are pulsing and more well defined.

  • The way our blood circulates, this is exactly what would happen to our own hands in the same position

  • Every detail points to Michelangelo's passion for human anatomy.  

  • Michelangelo, who never wasted a minute of his  life, worked morning noon and night on David,  

  • alone and in total secrecy. At night he would  attach candles to his hat. He rarely ate and  

  • when he did sleep, he slept in his clothes  which he seldom, if ever changed.

  • In 1504 he  finally presented his giant to the cathedral  committee. They were astonished at Michelangelo's  

  • skills, and agreed it was far too perfect to be placed at such a height

  • They decided to find a better location - and eventually decided it should be placed in the political heart of Florence.  

  • In Piazza della Signoria in front of  the town hall where its copy still is today

  • One member of the committee tried to persuade them to place David in a less prominent place.  

  • His name?

  • Leonardo da Vinci.

  • David is truly a colossusAt nearly six metres tall and weighing six tons,

  • it took four days and 40 men to move the statue  half a mile from Michelangelo's workshop.  

  • In a gesture of defiance, David was placed facing south - towards Rome.

  • Michelangelo, then added the  finishing touches on site.

  • Originally the sling and tree stump support were gilded with goldas seen in these reconstructions.

  • David received a rapturous reception from the Florentines,  

  • and right from the start it was hailed asmasterpiece - and a symbol of the Republic.  

  • The Italian sixteenth century historian, Giorgio Vasari wrote:

  • "After seeing this, no one need wish to look at any other sculpture, or the work of any other artists".

  • in 1873 David was moved to the Accademia gallery to protect it from environmental damage

  • And in 1910 a full-size copy was placed in the square.

  • The fig-leaf was eventually removed and  David could be seen as Michelangelo intended.

  • Statues have power beyond their initial reading.

  • One man's "hero" is another man's symbol of oppression.

  • Michelangelo's David has had his fair share of controversies,

  • but has always been on the side of the oppressedthe underdog.

  • David represents the power to overcome adversity, in the face of insurmountable odds.

  • And we can all relate to that.

  • Michelangelo would go on to create many masterpieces. But his miraculous transformation of a  

  • shepherd boy into the physical embodiment of  Florence, would prove to be a defining moment  

  • in his artistic career. He was an alchemist who  turned marble into flesh and bone, and brought a  

  • psychological insight and physical realism to sculpture, never seen before.  

  • He died in Rome in February of 1564. Still working at the age of 88 years old,

  • having outlived both his art rivals - Leonardo da Vinci AND Raphael.

  • He was brought back to Florenceto be buried in Santa Croce church.

  • Juststone's throw away from his divine David.

Michelangelo was the first superstar artist. He was a sculptor a painter an architect a poet and an engineer.

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Michelangelo's David: Great Art Explained

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    Caleb Eliel Lara Orellana posted on 2022/05/06
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