In my last blog post I mentioned the sculpture by Michelangelo of Israel’s king David. The statue is located in the Accademia Gallery in Florence, Italy. David is considered a masterpiece of Renaissance sculpture, created in the high renaissance period of Italy between 1501 – 1504. David is a 5.17 metre (17ft x 6.5ft) Carrara marble statue weighing 5.44 tonnes (12,000 pounds). It is sculpted from a single block of white marble. The statue was commissioned for one of the buttresses of the cathedral of Florence and was carved from a block of marble that had been partially blocked out by other sculptors and left outdoors. Art historians have noted that an 8 inch tall stucco model used for creating the sculpture of David has been located after being missing for 300 hundred years. The sculpture comes under the classification of lifelike anatomy. During the High Renaissance, Michelangelo created figurative works that focused on balance, harmony and the ideal form. David showcases these artistic sensibilities through his lifelike, asymmetrical posture, known as ‘counterpose’, and his realistic and highly detailed anatomy.
Throughout his career Michelangelo preferred to create sculptures rather than paintings. He was born in 1475 and died in 1564. His full name was Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni. He focused on paintings, drawings, sculpture and architecture. He is reputed to have said that it is more important to create great art rather than to discuss what constituted great art (as I do in this blog!). Being a creature of the Renaissance he studied the human form and was obsessed with the body being a physical representation of the soul. He is most famous for Pieta, the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and the dome of St Peter’s Basilica. He was fiercely protective of the sketches he produced in preparation for his works. He sent his sketches home to his family to avoid plagiarism by others. Today there are over 900 drawings of Michelangelo’s works still in existence. As I have said, he considered himself a sculptor and yet ironically he created some of the greatest fresco paintings and architecture the world has ever seen. Apparently he preferred fresco painting to oils.
Michelangelo thought that the human body was a beautiful entity that should be naked or only wearing simple robes. Thus, as is with the Roman tradition, David has been created with an impressive physique. The strength of his body represents the power he would wield in Israel according to the stories about him. The sculpture of David also reveals a relationship between Renaissance art and Greek mythology common in the Renaissance. The artist had a keen eye for light and shadow and acknowledged that they can represent volume and shape in both a sculpture and a painting. Thus he created many freestanding sulptures with an emphasis on curves and diagonals.
As an aside, it interesting to note that the David statue has him sculpted in proportion.* However, in the work entitled ‘Creation’ in the Sistine Chapel in which God creates the first man Adam, painted by Michelangelo, we see Adam as being formed with a muscular body but small genitals. I believe that in polite society of the time it was considered socially appropriate to create a naked man with small genitalia. Through the centuries fig leaves have been added to cover the nakedness of both men and women and they are often hairless. I think I am right in saying that the Simpsons had an episode where the statue of David was considered too risqué for the residents of Springfield!
Taste aside, the statue of David is a very impressive work of art sculpted in a classical style by a great artist. It is a pity that in 2021 only Europeans can see it.
* Some critics have argued that David’s hands seem to be disproportionately large, and his right arm is about 2.5cm too long. I will deal with the subject of anatomical accuracy in art in a future post. I will also deal with the thorny question of why the Jewish king David was uncircumcised in Michelangelo’s sculpture.