Michelangelo’s Art: The Meaning of David

Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni, best known as just Michelangelo was born March 6, 1475 in Caprese, Italy. At the young age of thirteen, Michelangelo became an artist. His style, was and still is very unique; as well as painting he was a very excellent sculptor. Michelangelo actually preferred sculpting rather than painting, he was a very particular person, and detail meant everything to him. He was the greatest artist of the Italian Renaissance time period. Starting in the Italian cities of Siena and Florence, the Renaissance spread throughout Europe during that time. The Italian Renaissance was a switch of time periods from medieval to modern, and also was a time of cultural change in the fourteenth century, especially in the art industry. The High Renaissance was when Michelangelo was well known for two of his pieces; “Pieta” and “David”.

Along with the two painting he was also known for his ceiling painting in the Rome Sistine Chapel. (Michelangelo.) David is a single slab of marble statue that stands about seventeen feet tall and weighs around twelve thousand pounds. The piece of slab marble was an unwanted piece that the artist used to sculpt David. It was originally located at the Piazza della Signoria, but later moved (so it would not be damaged) to where it is now, the Accademia Gallery in Florence, Italy. People not only in Italy acknowledge the art piece but so do others, over a million people visit the sculpture every year and thousands visit the iconic sculpture every day at the gallery. Michelangelo’s piece was not at first accepted by the people when it was shown in 1504, in Florence, Italy.

Stones were thrown at the piece, mainly by people who supported the Medici. With that incident happening, guards were hired to watch over David twenty-four hours a day. Before starting to sculpt David, Michelangelo used a technique of thumbnail sketching. Thumbnail sketching are quick drawings, usually with no correction, more of a continuous drawing without stopping. It took Michelangelo over four years to complete David.

It is said that you cannot look at David from just one perspective, all at one time. He is to be seen in an anamorphic, or sculpture in-the-round, perspective. Anamorphic perspective is when the viewer has to look at the piece at different angles or positions. The same concept as anamorphic perspective, sculpture in-the-round, demands movement, a viewer must walk around the entire sculpture to see every angle.

The sculpture is such an enormous figure, turned at an eighty-degree angle, that one look from one angle is not going to give you the entire feel for it. David is a perfect example of a representational art work. The medium of the entire representational piece is the marble. In particular, the sculpture has realistic features, including; the feet, the veins running through the entire body, especially the hands and legs. The only odd, or abstract, thing about the sculpture itself is the abnormally large hands and feet David has. The sculpture is a fully nude male named David. The sculpture is a religious symbol, where David is from the bible. The subject matter of David is simply the meaning, and why David was sculpted. The content of the piece is faith and to express the victory of David. The meaning of the sculpture is a Christian symbol, David, and his defeat over the tyrant Goliath. The full story is in 1 Samuel chapter 17.

Along with a religion symbol, it is also a symbol to the republican of Florence. Every symbol is interpreted a little different but to them the meaning was a little different, there it was a symbol of the cities freedom from the Medici family and from the foreign domination.

David is the absolute best example of the contrapposto pose, or “counterpose”. The pose is where the weight falls on one leg and raises the hip of the opposite leg, the opposite leg is relaxed and bent. It also turns the shoulders, so the figure has that solid “S” shape. There are many shapes inside the “S” shaped figure. For example, triangles for the nose, circles for the curls and ears, and ovals for the eyes. The outlining of the veins on the hands and legs, stand out very much as they show how strong and muscular David really is.

Creating David was a subtractive process, which is when an artist starts with a larger material and removes material to finish the final piece. Michelangelo used carving as his method of sculpting David, carving is one of the most common techniques in sculpting as well as art in general. Carving is a subtractive process that a material is being chipped, hammered away into a distinct shape. Throughout the sculpture it obtains expressive lines, an example would be the veins in the neck and the outline of the abs. They are very precise and, in a way, outlined to see the real masculine and muscular figure. Along with expressive lines, there are an insane amount of different types of lines portrayed in the sculpture. Horizontal lines there the eyes are lined up in a straight line to the swirly lines to define the hair on his head with the curls. With example of the lines come texture. Texture is the art pieces way of having sensation and a feeling of touch, for example the curls. Having a touch of the curls makes the sculpture come to life in one’s head. Although, in most if not all art exhibits there is a strictly “Do noy touch” sign near the art piece, or the art piece is in a glass cage.

The reason for that is because if everyone was to touch the pieces, overtime the texture will decay and slowly lose its original texture. The entire sculpture is a slab of marble that had been quarried forty years earlier in Tuscany. The negative space, the empty space which acquire volume, throughout the piece would be the space in between the thighs and armpits/ arms. The space really defines the volume of David, rather than it just being one big slab of marble with no defined spaces in it. The unity of the finished product is what brings the piece all together as a whole. Every body part is what brings the piece together.

David is another example of a narrative of art. Narrative art, tells a story or the defined meaning behind what the sculpture really means. Although David is nude, and you do see his gentiles, the main focus, or the focal point, that really stands out is his face and the pouch of the sling he is holding above his left shoulder. The motion of the picture is depicted by the action of the sculpture. Whereas has the sling on his left his left shoulder and is in a contrapposto pose, the action he is portraying is victory, although his facial expressions are more nonchalant.

Along with the rocks as weapons in his sling, David also has the courage from God with him. David has more of a victory look on his face more than anything. The living sculpture shows endurance and braveness. The scale of the sculpture is not to scale at all, the feet are much smaller than the head. The balance of the piece is an asymmetrical balance. If you were to draw a perfectly straight vertical line down David, he would be asymmetrical without a doubt.

Specifically, his contrapposto posture and the bending of the knee makes him asymmetrical. It is described as a large-scale work, being house large the sculpture really is. Describing the scale is very important, especially if you are reading about the piece in a article, it will give you a great overview/ idea of how big the piece really is. Going along with scale the portion, which is the size and parts of the piece, of David is not to scale as stated earlier, some portions of the figure are much larger than others; example the bottom half appears to be much smaller than the upper half. David does not do a significant job of showing portion, but the perfect example, used in almost every art book pertaining to portion, is Doryphoros, or The Spear Bearer, by Polyclitus.

The repetition throughout the piece is the curls in the head, it is a many circular shapes to create the curls, and to make them look realistic. The use of rhythm is in the muscles throughout David. The muscles are very defined through both sides of the sculpture; on the bottom, thighs, arms, and stomach. It is a constant reminder of the strength he used to defeat Goliath.

I picked David by Michelangelo because throughout the entire class I have really connected with the artist and the sculpture the most. He was only thirteen years old when he started his profession of drawing, and he never gave up on it. No matter how many pieces he messed up on, he continued with his dream. Michelangelo worked until his death bed. He was extremely talented, not only was he an artist, he was also a poet, which influenced some of his art. I connect with this piece the most because I am very religious, the narrative of the story about David is found in the bible in the book of 1 Samuel chapter 17. King David gains his fame throughout the city by being a musician then by killing Goliath. The sculpture is a very good image of what the bible describes David as.

The sculpture shows the best reflection of myself; brave, courageous, undefeated, fierce, strong, etc.… The significance behind it is remarkable as well, it is a major symbol to not only the Christian religion, but as well as Florence, Italy. It is like the guardian angel of Florene, Italy, standing tall and towards Rome. My favorite characteristic about Michelangelo is his creativeness and the amount of effort he puts into the details of his art work. From veins, to the abs, to the hair on David’s head; the sculpture is very detailed in every way and that is what I admire the most about his art.

Most, if not all, of Michelangelo’s art is filled with meanings. His pieces are not entitled to just one specific meaning, but not many. For example, another one of his famous pieces Pieta is not just a sculpture of a random man sitting on a random women’s lap. It is a moment after the crucifixion of Mary holding his son Jesus. The piece is worth over a million words and meanings. As an individual that has done a great amount of research on David, I hope to go and visit the piece at least one time in my lifetime.