Michelangelo’s David, in a moment of intense concentration, about to do battle with the giant, Goliath. Not only was the David’s stance alert, natural and graceful, the face revealed from every angle, a readiness for action.
Michelangelo knew about anatomy, having studied it at the morgue of the hospital of Santo Spirito. He spent hours there, dissecting bodies and learning about the skeletal structure. Although it was a grisly undertaking, it was there he gained his amazing ability to bring forth life from a block of stone.
The block of carrara marble, from which the seventeen feet tall, David would emerge, had been sitting unused in the workyard of the cathedral of Florence for over thirty years. Many artists had attempted to fashion a form from it, including Agostino di Duccio but with no success.
In 1501 Michelangelo was commissioned to create the biblical King David by the Arte della Lana (Guild of Wool Merchant), who were responsible for the upkeep and the decoration of the Cathedral in Florence.
The abandoned block of misshapen marble became Michelangelo’s and he worked to free the figure he knew was inside. The result is exactly what Michelangelo intended, David’s physical perfection was merely the outward sign of his inner state of grace.
Michelangelo said of his work, The true work of art is but a shadow of the divine perfection.
Not long before Michelangelo’s death he burned some of his poems, drawings, sketches and cartoons. Some have surmised that he didn’t want the world to see all the work that went into his completed works. Others suspect that Michelangelo, remembering Savonarola’s bonfire of the vanities in his youth, was looking towards the next world and the salvation of his soul.
But what remains of his immortal works reveals that Michelangelo is the greatest of all artists in an age of great artists.
I discovered Michelangelo and his works when I was very young and remember reading the story, The Agony and the Ecstasy by Irving Stone when I was in eighth grade. The book captivated me and urged me on to learn more about my hero, Michelangelo.
My most treasured high school graduation gift was a large, thick book with all of Michelangelo’s works. I planned to take a two week graduation school trip sponsored by my high school English teacher to Florence but dropped out when my parents counseled me that I had to choose between the trip and my first year of college because they couldn’t afford to do both. I made the decision to put the trip off until another day because I wanted to go to college.
Seven years later, when my husband and I were stationed in Germany I signed up for an officers wives trip down to Florence. The day we were to leave the trip was canceled because of an “earthquake” so the trip was changed to a shopping trip to Northern Italy. I was disappointed but went, determined to one day go to Florence.
My daughters, niece and I finally got to Florence in the summer of 2000. It was thrilling to finally be in the Accademia Gallery where the David stands in all of his glory. As we stood around the giant, my daughter was taking some photos (many of the tourists were doing so) and a female security guard approached her and in broken English demanded that she leave. I could have stayed but didn’t want to be separated from my daughters and niece so I left.
I saw the magnificent David but had to leave too quickly. So now I have to go back.
We visited the cathedral while we were in Florence. All visitors were asked to cover their heads and shoulders and we did. Michelangelo’s tomb was designed by Giorgio Vasari in 1570.
The three figures are the muses of Sculpture, Architecture, and Painting.
Among the many memorable quotes of the great man, the essence of Michelangelo is this: “I am a poor man and of little worth, who is laboring in that art that God has given me in order to extend my life as long as possible.”
Michelangelo died on February 1564, at the age of eighty-nine. He was still working, the last days before his death, on his final work, the same as his first, an unfinished Pietà.
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