A friend recently asked me why I haven't written about any Renaissance sculpture, particularly Michelangelo's monumenal David. The answer is two-fold: first, although I've studied scuplture and have some knowledge about the subject, my personal preference is for painting. Second, I believe that it is very difficult to get any real sense of a sculpture unless you actually see it; looking at a two- dimensional photo of a three- dimensional work is simply inadequate. However, I am happy to share a bit about the David here today because it is a most amazing statue.
Michelangelo was only twenty-six years old when he received his first public commission in 1501 asking him to sculpt a gigantic marble David for one of the outer butresses of the Duomo in Florence. He was given a block of marble that other artists had previously tried to hew without success. When his sculpture was completed in 1504, it aroused so much admiration that the public clamored for it to be placed in a more suitable location, and a committee of illustrious citizens decided to erect the statue in front of the Palazzo Pubblico (now the Palazzo Vecchio), the seat of the government. (As usual, you can click on the picture for a larger view).
Unlike earlier Davids by Donatello and Verrochio who portrayed a slender youthful boy after his triumphant defeat of Goliath, Michelangelo represented a young man in the full flower of his power and strength, just before the fight begins. He has his slingshot over his shoulder and he gazes to his left, presumably in the direction of his enemy. His muscles are tensed and ready for action. The Florentine people immediately recognized this David as a symbol of their city, a vulnerable place surrounded by powerful enemies in a dangerous time.
In the David people saw a symbol of fortezza and ira, strength and anger, and understood its political connotations. This was as Michelangelo intended; he was very aware of the politics involved. With God on his side, his David was victorious, and not simply, as the Bible implies, because of his cunning, but also because of his great strength and beauty, a fitting symbol for the proud citizens of sixteenth century Florence.
Today you can see the David in three locations in Florence. The original is in its own magnificent setting in the Galleria dell' Accademia, and there are copies in the Piazza della Signoria in front of the Palazzo Vecchio and another high in the hills on the Oltrano (the "other" side of the Arno River) in the Piazzale Michelangelo. Of course, you can also see David, or at least parts of him, everywhere in Florence, decorating boxer shorts, light switches, aprons, and more.
No one visits Florence without seeing the David, and the reaction is pretty universal-- stunned awe. I think it's his veins and sinews that impress me the most--he looks so alive you can almost believe that blood is coursing through his body and that he is about to step into action. And, of course, he is the epitome of naked male beauty. But don't take my word for it. See it for yourself when you join us for a Time of Your Life tour. I'll have lots more to tell you about it when you see it " in person."