The term “Renaissance Man” is used to describe someone who is highly accomplished in more than one field, and Michelangelo was a Renaissance Man in every sense of the term.
Not only did he help give rise to the Italian Renaissance, he also became a true master of multiple artforms, but he is perhaps known best for his work sculpting David.
A Hulking Likeness
Michelangelo’s David is carved from a single piece of marble, despite being 17 feet tall and weighing more than 12,000 pounds. It took 40 men the better part of a week to move the statue from Michelangelo’s studio to its original post, despite the distance spanning less than a mile.
During the Renaissance period in which Michelangelo lived and worked, artists focused on making very realistic depictions of the human form, and David is a perfect example of this focus. Despite its height, the statue features relatively accurate proportions, and extremely close attention to details like the contour of muscle.
The fact that the figure is nude was nothing scandalous in 1501 when the statue was commissioned (Michelangelo carved it in the 3 years that followed), but later periods that valued conservatism and modesty handled the nudity with varying degrees of grace; Queen Victoria had a fig leaf plastered over David’s more sensitive areas when a replica visited her namesake museum.
Though flawless in most ways, David’s eyes appear to have gotten away from Michelangelo, as they are pointing in different directions. This fact went largely unnoticed for centuries, until Stanford went about creating a full rendering with images. The statue’s hand is also unnaturally large, though this is thought to be a biblical reference made intentionally.
Michelangelo was just 26 when he took on the job of creating this famous art work, and he chose a traditional pose called contrapposto. This means that the figure appears to have shifted his weight to one side, so his shoulders and head can twist off slightly. The pose allowed Michelangelo to give the statue a more dynamic appearance, but also helped convey the kind of emotions he intended for the piece to evoke.
David’s pose suggests a quiet confidence, if perhaps accompanied by a bit of hesitation or uncertainty. In any case, it’s clear through the body language that David is experiencing a moment of thoughtful reflection prior to entering into one of The Bible’s most storied battles, where the odds were stacked heavily against him.
While it was originally visible in an open Florentine piazza, it was moved in 1873 under the roof of the Accademia Gallery, also in Florence, where it remains today.
The Original Underdog
The story of David and Goliath is so universal that it transcends the bounds of Christianity so inspire anyone with the odds stacked against them. In the biblical story, which takes place in the book of Samuel, Goliath is a champion of the Philistines who regularly challenges the Israelites to produce a champion worthy to fight him.
David, a young shepherd without any knowledge of or experience in combat, agrees to take on Goliath. He refuses any armor, and takes only his sling with five rocks. When the two meet to battle, David lands one well-placed shot of a stone on Goliath’s forehead, and the giant falls.
During that moment of vulnerability, David cuts of Goliath’s head, thus winning the battle. This is how David is ordinarily depicted: triumphant, in the heat of victory, holding the head of his slain opponent. Michelangelo, however, chose to move in a different direction with his sculpture.
The famous marble likeness of David shows him in the moments before battle. Though he does not appear hesitant, or as if he regrets the decision to stand up for his people, he does appear to be feeling the enormity of what he has taken on. In these quiet moments of reflection, Michelangelo succeeded in humanizing one of The Bible’s most unlikely heroes.
It is, perhaps, this sense of humanity that makes David one of the most famous statues in the world. It speaks to the idea that no matter how high a person rises, they are still human and prone to the same moments of doubt and reflection as everyone else.
An Era of Masters
Michelangelo and his contemporaries are widely regarded as some of history’s most talented artists. The Italian Renaissance (sometimes broadly referred to as just the Renaissance period) was a period of rebirth for culture on whole.
People were suddenly interested in gaining new insight, forming new perspectives, and increasing their understanding of the world, as well as man’s role in it. The most famous artists of the day, men like Da Vinci, Raphael, and Michelangelo were on the forefront of this new exploration.
Artists began utilizing linear perspective so that their works were more accurate, and made concerted efforts to better depict light, detail, and the human form (particularly as it related to nature). This was also a great time to be an artist since wealthy merchants frequently commissioned work from especially skilled masters; investing in art was considered a worthy pursuit during this period.
Though Michelangelo primarily fancied himself a sculptor, he made a famous foray into painting when he took on the allegorical depictions in the Sistine Chapel, a project that rivals David for his most famous.
The Renaissance artists paved the way for the subsequent eras of creative expression by renewing public interest in culturally enriching pursuits.
David is more than 500 years old, and may well be the world’s most famous sculpture. The stunning accuracy to scale and the striking humanity of the piece ensure that it will live forever in the hearts of art lovers.