Florence, Land of the Medici (Part 2): Michelangelo’s David
It is one of the most famous icons in all the history of Art, and one of the world’s undisputed masterpieces of sculpture. Michelangelo’s David must have been reproduced more than any other statue across the globe: You’d be hard pushed to find a garden centre which didn’t contain a moss-covered replica, or an Italian souvernir shop which didn’t have a panoply of aprons focusing on David’s genitals, keyrings of the same, and your own personal desktop David in every size and colour variation. Yet despite it’s high visibility, nothing can prepare you for seeing the real thing. Nothing.
I remember the moment of my first acquaintance with David when I studied art history in 2001. It was the day I was least looking forward to, since I thought David was too well-known and obvious to excite. But when I saw the original, the huge vast scale of it, the sheer perfection of his exquisitely sculpted flesh in marble, it made me cry. I stood before that masterpiece completely enraptured. And I have looked forward to making a second acquaintance ever since. Some 16 years passed before I could see David up close again, but as these photos show, he inspired me every bit as much on this second visit, and I took a long and happy pause to revel in every details of Michelangelo’s impossibly perfected magnum opus.
Created between 1501 and 1504, David is the work not of an experienced sculptor at the height of his game, but of a junior Michelangelo in the early years of his career. Much nurtured by his patron, Lorenzo (the Magnificent) di Medici, Michelangelo enjoyed a swift rise to fame, but his talent was the true driver, something which was never so brilliantly exhibited as in the creation of this perfect nude. The work is yet more incredible when you consider that Michelangelo first had to sculpt around the previous abandoned attempts made by two other sculptors on the same block of marble. He also had to make the best of this mammoth hunk of stone which had suffered notable deterioration during the 26 years when it had lain abandoned in a sculptural workshop, exposed to the elements. But as Michelangelo always said, he did not create sculptures, but simply freed them from the marble. And with David, he gave liberty to the most perfectly formed being ever seen in the history of art.
Of course David is not the only gem to be discovered in the Accademia Gallery where he can now be found. There reside a number of the unfinished Michelangelo’s sculptures commenced in anticipation of the great Pope Julius II tomb of which the sculptor’s famous Moses was also intended to be part. Likewise there is a room loaded full of plaster casts, all of which were used to give instructions to fellow scuptors who, like Michelangelo, would come to emerge from this indubitable city of the rebirth of Art. All of it makes a visit to the Accademia gallery a must, but book online to avoid the queues – it’s well worth the not waiting :-).
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What a fascinating post, Nic. I can’t even begin to believe how realistic the musculature and veins are on David. And to think it was carved in marble (and not the best marble, from what you say). Unreal.
Thank you Naomi! I know! It is a truly unbelievable masterwork in marble – the perfection of the body is such that you have to pinch yourself as you remember that it is carved from stone. Michelangelo truly knew how to bring rock to life. Hope you’re well and thanks for the message! 🙂
My experience seeing the David in person was overwhelming. We, by chance, must have gone at just the right time of day at the right time of year. The lighting through the skylights was perfect and I remember feeling awed by its magnitude much more than I had expected to. This was definitely one of those “art touching your soul” experiences for me. This post has me feeling nostalgic for my trip to Florence. Thanks for posting 🙂
So wonderful to hear about your encounter with David and to learn that he had a similar effect on you. It’s a magnificent moment to come into contact with a globally-renowned, historically-significant figure like David, and something to remember for many years. So glad you enjoyed the post 🙂