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Sculpture

David

Michelangelo
marble
17 feet tall
1504, Renaissance
Galleria dell'Accademia, Florence

Subject: Here David is depicted at the moment he is about to do battle with the monster Goliath. David was a King of Israel according to the Old Testament. He is said to have lived from 1037 to 967 BC. He features in many stories in the Bible. Known to be a skilled musician and virtuous, he is called by King Saul to rid him of an evil spirit which was plaguing him. Whenever David played his lute, King Saul was said to be free of this demon. Later on, when the Israelites are battling the Philistines it is decided that instead of a huge battle with much loss of life on both sides, they will simply pit each side's champion against each other. The giant Goliath is chosen to represent the Philistines. Though King Saul is worried for David's safety, he allows him to enter the fight. With a single stone flung from a slingshot, David defeats the monster. He uses Goliath's own sword to decapitate him, and he brings the head to the King. He gains much respect, and by the age of 30, after Saul's death, he is crowned King of Judah.

Artist's Work: The huge block of marble was given to many artists before Michelangelo, only 26 years old, finally made something of it. He felt that the image was already inside the stone, and he was just revealing it. He also only carved from one side, sometimes running out of material before the work could be finished. Michelangelo chooses to depict David here not as the young boy that he is said to be in the Bible but as a man. David stands in classic contrapposto pose (one leg supporting most of the weight, body in an s-shape), holding the sling over his shoulder. This conveys a strong feeling of motion, and helps to show that he is about to enter battle. The statue was meant to capture the spirit of Florence, a city that strongly related itself to the young David. It was orginally meant to sit on a buttress of Santa Maria del Fiore, but was such a masterpiece that it was moved to the courtyard in front of Palazzo Vecchio where a copy stands today. The levels of detail and disegno make the sculpture one of the most incredibly realistic and beautiful of all time, and it is solidly present in our culture to this day.

Reaction: This work is incredibly famous, and it is difficult to try to look at it with fresh eyes. The work is of course incredible. The anatomy appears flawless and looks extremely Greek. Whether it is the fact that this image saturates our culture so much, or perhaps the fact that his hands are disturbingly huge, I am not particularly fond of this statue. I imagine that if I were to see it as it was intended, from straight down below, it would impress me more. But as it is, I feel like it is in the wrong place and it just puts me off. I am impressed by the details, of course. The veins on the hands and the toes for instance, are incredible. It boggles me that someone could sculpt such delicate softness out of a hard block of marble. So, from a technical standpoint, I like David quite a lot. Artistically, however, I find it similar yet almost inferior to the statues of Antiquity. I'll save my final judgement for when I lie on the floor underneath it in Florence.


Michelangelo's David is quite different than Donatello and Verocchio's previous
versions. In the Verocchio's Davidolder statues, David is shown in the moments just after battle, in victory. Michelangelo shows David about to enter battle instead. It is worth mentioning, however, that some have suggested that Michelangelo's David is also just out of battle, in and contemplating his victory. His is also different in the fact that he is portrayed as an adult, not a feminine youth. This is symbolic of his power and pride. Verocchio's is shown clothed, while Donatello and Michelangelo's are both portrayed nude. There is an important difference between these two nudes, however. Donatello adds a hat and footwear to accentuate the nudity, and it puts the viewer somewhat on edge. His long hair and the flora present on his hat add to his femininity. Verocchio's, though young and certainly not as devoloped as Michelangelo's, is definitely a man. The two youthful statues have a lot of difference as well. Verocchio's looks far more confident, mature and manly than Donatello's. The latter's weapon looks ridiculously oversized and this does not convey a sense of power. In fact, he looks almost confused or lost; he has a sense of not belonging. Verocchio's David, while still young, has somewhat more impressive musculature and looks like he could actually handle the weapon he is wielding. Though the people of Florence may have prefered a self-assured David, the more likely interpretation may in fact be the more timid one. He seems surprised to have actually suceeded in killing Goliath, and isn't this the more likely response of a young boy?