ReInterpreting Michelangelo’s David

The Ruined Block of Stone

Look at the statue. Before it was “The David“, it was just a ruined block of stone.

David,  by Michelangelo     (1504 ) Galleria dell’Accademia, Florence ( a GNU Free Documentation License photo de Rico Heil (User:Silmaril), published here)

“At this time some of his friends wrote to him advising him to come back to Florence, because there was some talk of having the great piece of marble which was lying spoilt made into a statue, and Piero Soderini Gonfaloniere had talked of giving it to Leonardo da Vinci, and now was preparing to give it to Andrea Contucci. Michael Angelo had desired to have it many years before; so he returned to Florence, and tried for it.

It was a piece of marble nine braccia in size, out of which a Master Simone da Fiesole had begun to carve a giant, and had managed it so badly that the heads of the works at S. Maria del Fiore, without caring to have it finished, had abandoned it, and it had been lying thus for many years.

Michael Angelo measured it again, and examined it to see if a reasonable figure could be cut out of the rock by accommodating its attitude to the maimed condition in which Master Simone had left it, and resolved to make a request for it from the architects and Piero Soderini Gonfaloniere.

They, considering it a useless thing, granted it to him, thinking that anything would be better than the state it was in. Then Michael Angelo made a model in wax of a young David with a sling in his hand, and began to work in S. Maria del Fiore, setting up a scaffold round the marble, and working at it continually without anybody seeing it until he had brought it to perfection.

Master Simone had so spoilt the marble that in some places there was not enough left for Michael Angelo’s purpose, and certainly it was a miracle restoring thus one that was dead.

When Piero Soderini Gonfaloniere saw it, it pleased him much, but he said to Michael Angelo, who was engaged in retouching it in certain places, that he thought “the nose was too thick”.

Michael Angelo, perceiving that Piero Soderini Gonfaloniere was below the statue, and could not see it truly, to satisfy him went up the scaffold, taking a chisel in his left hand with a little marble dust, and began to work with his chisel, letting a little
dust fall now and then, but not touching the nose.

Then looking down to Piero Soderini Gonfaloniere, who was watching, he said, “Look at it now.”

It pleases me better,” said Piero Soderini Gonfaloniere; “you have given it life.”

So Michael Angelo came down, pitying those who make a show of understanding matters about which they really know nothing. For the statue, Michael Angelo received
four hundred crowns from Piero Soderini Gonfaloniere. It was set up in the year 1504.

Source: Stories of the Italian Artists, Vasari 

Michael Angelo carved the David, according to Condivi, though few believe this, in eighteen months and “extracted the statue so exactly that the old rough surface of the marble [and Simone da Fiesole’s chisel marks] still appear on the top of the head and on the base.”

David, Andrea del Verrocchio, ca. 1466-69, Museo del Bargello, Florenz, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Andrea del Verrocchio‘s bronze statue of David was most likely made between 1473 and 1475. It was commissioned by the Medici family. It is sometimes claimed that Verrocchio modeled the statue after a handsome pupil in his workshop, the young Leonardo da Vinci.

The statue represents the youthful David, future king of the Israelites, triumphantly posed over the head of the slain Goliath. The bronze was initially installed in Palazzo Vecchio in 1476.[1]

 

The bronze David created by Donatello between 1430 and 1432. It is currently located in the Bargello Palace and Museum. CC BY-SA 2.0

David is the title of two statues of the biblical hero by the Italian early Renaissance sculptor Donatello, an early work in marble of a clothed figure (1408-09), and a far more famous bronze figure that is nude between its helmet and boots, and dates to the 1430s or later. Both are now in the Museo Nazionale del Bargello in Florence.

Sculptor John Edwards suggests an alternative interpretation for Michelangelo’s David. Traditionally, David is thought to look at his adversary, Goliath. Like the “Davids” of Donatello and Verrocchio, who stand on Goliath’s head signaling that the battle is over and the victory won, Michelangelo’s David may also represent the victory over Goliath.

Not only that, but also Michelangelo’s David is looking at the rest of the Philistine army, wondering if they will honor Goliath’s pledge to turn back if he is defeated in single combat.

This could be Michelangelo’s comment on the wretched leadership of Lorenzo de Medici’s son Piero, and his dereliction of civic responsibility.

 

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About profesorbaker

Thomas Baker is the Past-President of TESOL Chile (2010-2011). He enjoys writing about a wide variety of topics. The source and inspiration for his writing comes from his family.
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