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A Research on The Sculpture of David by Michelangelo

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Twenty-six-year-old, Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni, or more commonly known as just, Michelangelo, was an Italian renaissance artist from Jerusalem. One of his most famous works was his sculpture, “David” which stands 17 feet tall, is made from marble and is of a biblical hero, “David”, the second King of Israel and Judah. The subject is from the story of, “David and Goliath” and the sculpture was completed between 1501-1504 during the height of the Renaissance period. To better understand the connection between the sculpture and the period I’m going to talk a little bit about the renaissance period and how it came about. The Renaissance period was an artistic and sociological uprising that started in the late 1300’s with writers who spoke to the idea of humanism which encompassed man’s effort to be the best that man can be rather then the study of philosophy or theology. The pinnacle of this period was during Roman Empire with the Ancient Greeks and Ancient Romans in the 1400’s when Humanism began to surface. They felt that there was no reason to look back in the past, when we are living in a period that exemplifies the best man has ever been now. There was a sense that when creating man in art form, it should be the most ideal man that can be created. The idea that man’s advancements in technology, architecture, communication and the ability to see what could be, rather than past traditional sameness was the main idea of the renaissance period. Years later as the bourgeoisie began to pick up on this, they began to influence architects and artist to recreate this idea, which is known as the Renaissance period. In 1450, the Guttenberg printing press had just been invented and because of this advancement in communication, these idea’s where able to be mass-distributed.

The Statue of “David” was commissioned by the City Government of Florence, Italy in 1463. However, Michelangelo wasn’t the first artist commissioned to create it. In fact, he wasn’t the second artist either. Michelangelo was the third artist that was commissioned to complete the project. The first artist was commissioned to Agosto di Duccio in1463 and began with a large Carrara marble block. He started with his feet and legs and then left the project because he claimed that the marble that came from the quarries in Carrara had to many imperfections. In 1473, Antonio Rossellino was commissioned and picked up where Duccio left off, but early in his work, he too bowed out of the project for the same reasons. 25 years later, in 1501, Michelangelo was finally commissioned. He started on the same marble block from scratch and was able to finish it by 1504. It was to be placed on the top of the east end of the Florence Cathedral roof line alongside a series of prophet sculptures, but once Michelangelo completed “David” and showed the City Government, what he completed in 3 years, they felt it was both too heavy and too beautiful to put up high on the rooftop. After a committee of Florence community leaders and fellow artists, Leonardo di Vinci, Filipino Lippi and Botticelli come together to decide where the best place for “David” to reside, it was agreed to be unveiled in a public square outside the Palazzo Vecchio, which is Florence’s Town Hall in the Piazza della Signoria on September 8th in 1504.

To really appreciate what this sculpture embodies, it is not only significant to understand how the Statue of David was commissioned and by Whom, but it is also important to know why it was commissioned by the city of Florence and why they chose, “David” as the subject. David was a hero from the story of “David and Goliath” written in the early testament. In the story, David, against all odds, defeated the enemy-giant, Goliath, with help from God. Wearing no armor and armed only with a sling shot and a rock. He brought down the giant and proved that with God, anything was possible. Although Michelangelo’s “David” was ultimately a religious piece, it quickly became a representation of Florence’s struggle with the city’s former ruling family, “Medici”, who were Italian, Bank owners that were a political dynasty, but were exiled from Florence for a decade while the city was run by Republican, Anti-Medicean government. The statue was placed in front of the Town Hall with his eyes gazing toward the direction of Rome, where the Medici Family resided after being exiled. To most citizens, this was clearly a political art piece. To the officials of The City of Florence, it represented Florence constant struggle with Medician politics and that Florence would stand up to them if needed. This caused a division of the community between former Medici followers and the new Government in place and although there was a division, the exile of the Medici family would stand for many years. The attention received from the statue’s placement at the town hall as well as the attention received for its new depiction of the David differing prior versions is very interesting.

The thing about Michelangelo’s David that separates it from Donatello’s David and Ghiberi’s David is that Michelangelo had decided to interpret David moments before the battle with Goliath. You can see his intense, focused, glare at the direction of where Goliath would be. You can see his sling shot over his left shoulder and his right hand cuffed as if he is holding a stone. David stands leaning toward his right leg and as a result has his back curved slightly toward the shoulders that are twisted off the axis of his hips. This positioning of the subject’s weight on one leg is an Ancient Roman and Greek, Classical Pose called, “Contrapposto”, which is an Italian term that means, “counterpoise”. This creates more of an intense scene that makes for an interesting dynamic. Another interesting fact is that David’s hand and head are slightly larger in proportion to his body. Some think it has to do with the thought of it being high up on the roof ledge of the cathedral and he may have compensated perspective. It has never been believed that it was done by accident.

Michelangelo’s attention to detail and realism in these descriptions allow the observer to relate to the situation David is in moments before his attack on the enemy.

Donatello and Ghiberi’s David were depicted moments after defeating Goliath in triumph and evoking a feeling of victory. Michelangelo broke from that tradition by creating suspense and confidence depicting David prior to action. David’s face looks so focused as he thinks about the right time to attack his enemy. This idea of the “thinking man” is in line with the Renaissance. Choosing to evoke such passionate-emotions had completely taken Michelangelo to a high point in his career. This version of “David” evoked more emotion and confidence then any of the previous versions.

Michelangelo achieved his goal of applying Renaissance to his “David” while being innovative enough to choose a pre-battle scene rather than past version that were after the excitement was over allowing room for said emotion. Although it became a political representation, it also became a sign that all things are possible with God. Michelangelo’s completed David was absolutely his best work to date. The smoothness of the body, the texture of the eyes, hair and hands are exceptional work. I personally have a higher respect for the Statue of David as well as Michelangelo’s talent at such a young age.

In this criticism paper we talked about how The David stands 17 feet tall and although, past artist abandoned the Marble slab claiming imperfections, it has been one of Italy’s prized possessions. You can see that he took a lot of influence from ancient Roman and Greek art. We know that there were two prior sculptures that attempted and abandoned the project for this 3rd version of David and that they both claimed the marble stone was flawed. We briefly talked about how the renaissance period became and how it influenced Michelangelo’s work. We went over a brief history of how The City of Florence fell in love with the final product and ended up placing him in front of the cities Town Hall instead of high up in the cathedral. We talked about Michelangelo not knowing his work would end up being such a strong political symbol affecting the entire community of Florence, but that his work was a masterpiece, both loved, and hated by political division in the city, but that it represented the cities struggles with their former ruling family, Medici. We know that Michelangelo’s David is a representation of courage, strength and God. This Renaissance Sculpture is one of the most prolific and important treasures in history for many around the world and not just in Italy. It’s amazing that we live over 500 years in the present and his creation continues to provoke conversation and emotion still.

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