Monday, 15 September 2014

Michelangelo's David Up Close

Visitors capturing a shot of David in Florence
On the day we planned to go to Florence, it was already raining in the wee hours, and we heard the rumbling of thunder, though no sharp cracks of lightning.

Nevertheless, we had to arm ourselves with raincoats and umbrellas for the day. We took the train there which took about 50 minutes and after we arrived our first order of the day was to go to the Galleria dell'Accademia, where we had tickets to go in between 10.15am and 10.30am.

An unfinished sculpture for the pope's tomb
After a short wait we were able to go inside, be subjected to a security check and then head straight for the room with Michelangelo's David inside.

But before that our guide told us a bit about the sculptor, painter and architect. He was born in Florence in 1475 and his family, the Buonarroti, were aristocratic, so Michelangelo had a good childhood and education.

At the age of 14 he recognized his calling to be an artist and practiced his craft until he died at the age of 89 which was very old in those days, where the average lifespan was about 50 or 60. He never married, nor had any children, which perhaps also explains his prolific output.

Pope Julius II commissioned Michelangelo to work on the pope's tomb and wanted him to carve 40 statues in five years. This meant he had to work on each of them bit by bit. But then the pope changed his mind and decided Michelangelo should paint the Sistine Chapel even though painting -- or painting frescoes was not his forte. But when the pope orders you to do something -- akin to a king -- you do as you're told.

The Virgin Mary holding the body of Christ
So just before seeing David up close, visitors can see seven blocks of marble with various states of carving. Some the faces are barely made out, while a leg muscle is starting to be formed after chiseling and then polishing.

The guide told us it is said that if you are a good artist, your hand follows the mind, and in a block of marble, a person is waiting to be liberated by the artist.

It is also interesting to note Michelangelo lost his mother when he was around five or six years old. And so his portrayals of the Virgin Mary are more human than angelic with a halo over her head.

We finally got to the highlight of the Academia, the statue of David. He is made out of one giant block of Carrara marble and Michelangelo began working on it when he was 27 years old for two years. He did it all by himself, working from top to bottom.

David looking like he is ready to strike Goliath
It's pretty awe inspiring to look at, pretty much anatomically correct except for the extra large hands and feet. Nevertheless, you can see the veins and muscles, and the leather strap of the slingshot, signifying he looks ready to strike Goliath.

There is a tree trunk at the bottom of his right leg to support the statue, though it has some cultural significance, being an olive tree which represents peace. The enlarged hands may mean the importance of strong hands, the hands of a worker.

After the statue was completed, it was painstakingly transported from the Duomo to City Hall, carefully lining the path with carpet and the 11,000-pound statue was pulled by 50 men. It took 10 days to reach city hall where it stood outside for some 300 years.

It was then moved inside to where it stands now, while a replica stands in its place outside.

See the leather slingshot over David's back?
In 1991 a man attacked the statue with a hammer he had concealed in his jacket. He damaged the toes on the left foot before he was restrained. You can see the restorers have tried to do the best they can to patch it up, but we're just glad he's still in one big piece for everyone to admire.