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June 5th 2009.
The Accademia was originally meant to be a Michelangelo museum. Besides David, it houses some of his other minor work if there is such a thing as minor Michelangelo work. Academia has some outstanding collections by Ghirlandio and the original plaster of Giambologna’s Rape of the Sabines.
Though, once you are in Accademia, all eyes are for David. Take David out of Accademia and it will drop out of the top 50 places to visit in Florence. Italy has many such museums that tout one or two great pieces of art. It seems like an elaborately hatched scheme by a financial mastermind who sprinkled the treasures across museums to maximize the tourist entry fee toll.
Michelangelo started work on David in 1501 using an imperfect block of marble. A block rejected by no lesser artists than Duccio, Rosselino and Leonardo Da Vinci. Within two years, he “freed David from the stone” bringing the marble “back to life”.
The statue was unfurled to an eager Florentine crowd in Piazza della Signoria. David was an instant hit. An iPod of antiquity. Then after weathering many centuries outdoors and several acts of vandalism, the statue was moved to its current location in the museum in 1873.
The statue challenges the audience to walk around it. Every angle uncorks a nuance. Every nuance justifies Michelangelo’s objection to Leonardo Da Vinci’s suggestion of placing it in a niche in Loggia della Signoria that could only allow frontal inspection.
David’s posture, as he faces the Philistine giant, has been analyzed ad infinitum. It has been described best in a Giunti publication called David that you can buy in Accademia.
“If, without embarrassment, we try to imitate his posture, and with legs slightly apart put our weight on the right, the left knee flexes forwards almost automatically, creating an attitude of reflection which raises the left shoulder and the right buttock. Up to this point the body remains balanced. Now lets pretend that we are grasping the sling ( a catapult with a leather band) which is resting on our shoulder, in our left hand, and gripping a stone in our right, the wrist tensely clenched like that of the statue, and move the left foot forward. This position cannot be held for more than a moment…”
One can depend on Michelangelo’s wit to pick a posture that can only be held momentarily and yet freeze it for infinity.
Much brouhaha has been made about David’s disproportionate head and hand. In the case of the Pieta, Michelangelo allows structural mechanics to pollute anatomical accuracy. Here, philosophically, thought and action - head and hand - have been united and hence enlarged.
One only needs to look at David’s right hand to dispel any doubts that might linger about Michelangelo’s understanding of the human anatomy. Every vein, bone and joint has been masterfully reproduced. I guess, if one were to look at the palm, one would see the vortexes on the marble fingers.
David’s eyes, set below a furrowed brow, is a study of concentration and intimidation. The clearly divergent set of eyes, forms the sole “interaction with surrounding”. (Follow this article to understand why the statue should be rotated a 90 degrees from its current position.)
Before getting into the Accademia, I had asked Rhea the eternal David riddle. Has he already slain Goliath or is he about to?
“He is planning to” she said firmly. She refused to divulge the reasons that lead to the reasoning and yet, she is aligned with the most popular scholarly theory of all times.
Michelangelo was not the first one to attempt David, neither was he the last. The biblical king was a popular people’s model.
Here are other famous renditions:
|Donatello’s David, (1430-40), Bargello||Veracchio’s David (1473-75), Bargello||Bernini’s David, (1623-24), Galleria Borghese|
Donatello’s David is made in bronze, is a full nude, and looks the boy he was supposed to be. Goliath’s severed head lies at his feet, a huge sword in the right hand and a stone in the left. Had the name on the sticker not read Donatello, the statue would go pretty unnoticed.
Verrocchio decides to clad the hero, avoiding the public uproar Donatello’s nude created. The other elements repeat. The sword, the hand on the hip, the victorious smile, the head of the giant. The position of the severed head is controversial and is graphically explained here.
Both of the these statues predate Michelangelo’s.
By the time Bernini set about to make his, he had seen them all in including Michelangelo’s. He broke the mould in every possible way and came out with a stunner. Aggressive posture and pure poetry in full battle motion.
It is worthwhile to see Michelangelo and Bernini side by side.
It is not an easy comparison. They come from different eras, different political climates, different financial backdrop.
Michelangelo was the chef d'oeuvre of renaissance. Bernini, Michelangelo’s artistic heir-apparent, the Baroque catalyst. “Mike’s Dave”, as Rhea lovingly calls it, is pensive, plotting, planning. Bernini’s is a man of action. Angry. Explosive. Michelangelo’s David looks cultured, well bred. Bernini’s – a street fighter. A bad-arse. Michelangelo's David is self contained. Standalone. Bernini’s – a part of a bigger picture. A picture you have to imagine.
Michelangelo’s is a George Clooney. Bernini’s Daniel Craig.
In the war of Davids, in a contest where I were to be the judge, Bernini would win. After all, Clooney could never be 007…
Source: Dave + Suz
[Next: Brunelleschi’s Dome]
Source: Melted Wing’s Wax