You turn the corner, and walk into the hallway where you know he is.
Your expectations are high, but you try to temper your excitement so you’re not too let down. Just in case.
You try to avoid looking up to save the moment as long as possible but it’s too hard.
You know that the place is packed all because of him. You’re elbow to elbow with other camera-toting-but-not-allowed-to-take-pictures tourists all facing and moving toward one end of the room.
Finally, unable to postpone the moment you look up. Past all the heads. Your eyes adjust to the light focused on him.
David is absolutely as overwhelming as you have heard.
The first part of the long room leading to David houses Michelangelo’s Prisoners (another one of the reasons I so wanted to visit the Accademia where they are housed) …..
(either side of the image above)
From Rick Steves:
These unfinished figures seem to be fighting to free themselves from the stone. Michelangelo believed the sculptor was a tool of God, not creating but simply revealing the powerful and beautiful figures he put in the marble. Michelangelo’s job was to chip away the excess, to reveal. He needed to be in tune with God’s will, and whenever the spirit came upon him, Michelangelo worked in a frenzy, often for days on end without sleep.
The Prisoners gives us a glimpse of this fitful process, showing the restless energy of someone possessed, struggling against the rock that binds him. Michelangelo himself fought to create the image he saw in his mind’s eye. You can still see the grooves from the chisel, and you can picture Michelangelo hacking away in a cloud of dust. Unlike most sculptors, who built a model and then marked up their block of marble to know where to chip, Michelangelo always worked free hand, starting from the front and working back. These figures emerged from the stone (as his colleague Vasari put it) “as though surfacing from a pool of water.”
The Prisoners was designed for the never-completed tomb of Pope Julius II (who also commissioned the Sistine Chapel ceiling). Michelangelo may have abandoned them simply because the project itself petered out, but he may have deliberately left them unfinished. Having satisfied himself that he’d accomplished what he set out to do, and seeing no point in polishing them into their shiny, finished state, he went on to a new project.
As you study the Prisoners, notice Michelangelo’s love and understanding of the human body. His greatest days were spent sketching the muscular, tanned, and sweating bodies of the workers in the Carrara marble quarries. Here, the prisoners’ heads and faces are the least-developed part – they “speak” with their poses. Comparing the restless, claustrophobic Prisoners with the serene and confident David gives an idea of the sheer emotional range in Michelangelo’s work.
Note: the photos of David are totally against the rules. At the foot of the sculpture is a gallery employee shouting “No PHOTOS!” if she even catches a *glimpse* of a camera.
But I’m stealthy …
From Rick Steves:
When you look into the eyes of Michelangelo’s David, you’re looking into the eyes of Renaissance Man. This 14-foot-tall symbol of divine victory over evil represents a new century and a whole new Renaissance outlook. This is the age of Columbus and classicism, Galileo and Gutenberg, Luther and Leonardo – of Florence and the Renaissance.
In 1501, Michelangelo Buonarotti, a 26-year-old Florentine, was commissioned to carve a large-scale work for the Duomo. He was given a block of marble that other sculptors had rejected as too tall, shallow, and flawed to be of any value. But Michelangelo picked up his hammer and chisel, knocked a knot off what became David‘s heart, and started to work.
The figure comes from a Bible story. The Israelites, God’s chosen people, are surrounded by barbarian warriors led by a brutish giant named Goliath. The giant challenges the Israelites to send out someone to fight him. Everyone is afraid except one young shepherd boy – David.
The statue captures David as he’s sizing up his enemy. He stands relaxed but alert, leaning on one leg in a classical pose. In his powerful is steady – searching with intense concentration, but also with extreme confidence. Michelangelo has caught the precise moment when David is saying to himself, “I can take this guy.”
Note that while the label on David indicates that he’s already slain the giant, the current director of the Accademia believes, as I do, that Michelangelo has portrayed David facing the giant.
David is a symbol of Renaissance optimism. He’s no brute but a civilized, thinking individual who can grapple with and overcome problems. He needs no armor, only his God-given body and wits. Look at his right hand, with the raised veins and strong, relaxed fingers. Many complained that it was too big and overdeveloped. But this is the hand of a man with the strength of God. No mere boy could slay the giant. But David, powered by God could. … and did.
Originally, the statue was commissioned to go on top of the Duomo, but the people loved it so much they put it next to the Palazzo Vecchio on the main square, where a copy stands today. If the relationship between the head and body seems a bit out of proportion, it’s because Michelangelo designed it to be seen “correctly” from far below the rooftop of the church.)
This was one of my favorite moments of our trip …..
There’s not much more I can say about David …. except that you MUST see him. If you’re in Italy, of course.
Add it to your Bucket list.