The Most Famous Creators: David Michelangelo, George Washington Greenough, Leonardo da Vinci

The ideal male body is what all men have strived for throughout the ages, we want to be the best looking, have the best symmetry, because that is what makes you as a man stand out, to be the ideal of beauty is what will make you a greater man, and will allow you to be seen as a power figure. The personification of the a handsome man has generally been an idealized version of an upper-class important individual throughout all of history. Michelangelo’s David and Greenough’s George Washington are both pieces of art that really captivate and create the idealistic male body, as a sense that they were both made in God’s image in where all parts of the body are seen to be perfected in a way.

Although both pieces of art can be seen as masculine and ideal, the way the artist both portray their ideas into their creations are individualized to the artists own style. In the painting of George Washington he can be seen as a more emotional and has a sense of strength in his body language, but David sculpture is more relax and in harmony with his surroundings. The representation of what these artists saw in the meaning of the ideal male figure, and the power that they brought/bring can be seen in the body language of their pieces of work.

The work known as David done by Michelangelo is a portrayal of David from the bible defeating the philistine Goliath with a sling. This sculpture was commissioned by the Florence City council as a part of a contest on who could create the best David sculpture, Michelangelo won this competition, and David was then used to as stated in Florentine history and Civic identity as a“symbolize a hero of the weak against the strong”(19). David gave the city of Florence a propagandist ideal of a wealth and strength which was reassuring for the citizens of the city. It was also placed next to the entrance to the Palazzo Vecchio portraying the true essence and beauty of the figure of David and the power that this statue brings.

In an article written by Kristy Puchko she states “it’s believed that Michelangelo based David’s pose on depictions of Hercules, a hero with deep ties to the city of Florence who had even appeared on the Florentine seal for centuries’. An idealized body and its posture recreate a deeper meaning for the country it was commissioned for, David portraying a “God” with his stature shows his importance to the people of florence.

Likewise, the U.S. Congress commissioned Greenough’s George Washington for display in the U.S. Capitol, and is to serve as a landmark object. As stated by the Smithsonian “U.S. Congress authorized Greenough (1805–1852), the first professionally trained American sculptor to be awarded a federal commission, to create a monument to Washington for the centennial of the first president’s birthday in the rotunda of the United States Capitol”(1). Just like Michelangelo’s David, George Washington was a great person that took a major part in the formation of the United Stance, and was one of the founding fathers. George Washington was a leader of the Continental Army in the American Revolution, and was the first to become U.S. president. And Greenough was on a task to recreate a great of the United States, and try his best to portray his power through art.

An aid that has helped for the structure and portrayal of an idealistic body and the stature of the body could be found in the work done by Leonardo Da Vinci and his work on the Vitruvian Man where implementations of perfect canon of proportions for the body and creation of man in God’s image are part of the strong general outline of his work. The Vitruvian man was “used to illustrate the Renaissance idea of man”(2,Nexus). Works done by Greenough and Michelangelo portray a neoclassical style brought forth after the renaissance. Even though Greenough created his George Washington three centuries after Michelangelo’s David the power of the ideals brought forth by Leonardo Da Vinci resonated within the works of both Michelangelo and Greenough. The idea as stated by Leonardo Da Vinci “The proportional relationship of the parts reflects universal design. And a ‘medical’ equilibrium of elements ensures a stable structure. These qualities are thus shared equally by God’s creation of the human body and the human being’s own production of a good”(2). The essence in the works of Greenough and Michelangelo show the idealistic body, and the power of the body. The person embodying these two sculptures were both strong male figures that had a great impact for the future of their peoples. Both centered in the cities which were the capitals of their own and both created a sense of sanctuary and solidarity for their peoples.

Both Greenough and Michelangelo created a sculpture that are embodiments of strength and power of in the form of a national hero. Greenough presented “ The conception of the seated figure derives from a famous lost statue, the “Olympian Zeus” by the ancient Greek sculptor Phidias”(Newsdesk), Zeus is a greek God and the way Greenough portrays him through George Washington goes to show what great power the United States people saw in George Washington and his heroisitic form. Strong rigid emotion displayed in the face of George Washington it allows for a Greenough to introduce an overpowering gaze, that he is looking out towards the crowd and his true muscularity gives him a form of power and authority over the audience.

Again an idea that is chiseled into the renaissance/ neoclassical period because of the work by Leonardo Da Vinci the Vitruvian Man. His hand is gesturing upwards towards heaven to allow for the portrayal that he was created in the image of God and that God sent him down as a guidance figure for the people of the United States. Also Greenough implementing the symbolizing pieces of what George Washington’s successes have been with the use of the the “ sword in Washington’s outstretched hand, which represents how he relinquished his military power to the people”(NewsDesk). By doing this Greenough captivates the legacy that Greenough leaves behind.

Greenough and Michelangelo used many similar styles in their portrayal of man in God’s image. Just like Michelangelo’s David the use of mythological Gods was in use, Michelangelo draws his inspiration of the posture from Hercules, “Hercules is the Roman name for the Greek divine hero Heracles, who was the son of Zeus”(Omics). A strong figure from mythological stories Both used by Greenough and Michelangelo.

The use of Hercules for David’s posture makes sense because off his power and courage on taking on the Goliath with just a rock and a sling. Unlike Greenough’s George Washington , Michelangelo’s David can be seen in a relaxed posture subtle rigid face, even though he just has entered battle, this relaxed state is in riposo. Michelangelo portrays the ideal male body, in the sheer strength and power given to David but his proportions aren’t on par with what was given by Leonardo Da Vinci Vitruvian Man. For example, “His right hand is out of proportion. It’s too big to fit perfectly with the rest of his body. This asymmetry is believed to be Michelangelo’s clever nod to David’s nickname, manu fortis—strong of hand”(Mf). Although Michelangelo doesn’t put in the ideas given by Leonardo Da Vinci Vitruvian Man he gives us the essence of the strength of David and his arms, and that he is in fact created in God’s image.

Michelangelo had a great view for how he was creating his sculpture, this was originally going to be placed two floors in a high ceiling area so Michelangelo had to make his David out of proportion so it can be seen by all. Michelangelo uses the ideal male body, but captures a completely different feel for the story the statue is going to tell, unlike Greenough’s George Washington the structures of the face, and the way George Washington is seated portray a different story and a the difference of style used by both artists but the way the artist both portray their ideas into their creations are individualized to the artists own style.

The work of Leonardo Da Vinci Vitruvian Man, and Michelangelo’s David were highly accepted in the communities that they were created for. Leonardo Da Vinci Vitruvian Man “own reflection on human proportion and architecture, made clear through words and image. The purpose of the illustration is to bring together ideas about art…”(DavinCiLife). The way Leonardo laid down his ideas into this piece created a craze for his time, art was now being measured and put together in a more formal fashion, Leonardo’s work was highly accepted by the people around him, because it made sense that God would make us so perfect and in his image that more artists began to use his idea of perfect canon of proportion, and the idealization of the male figure more often in their works.

Michelangelo’s David was a growing phenomenon, Sixteenth century Italian painter and architect Giorgio Vasari wrote of David, ‘Whoever has seen this work need not trouble to see any other work executed in sculpture, either in our own or in other times.’ This statement allowed for the vast interest of the David to sky rocket and people all around started to recreate and take into consideration the skill that Michelangelo had, and the true beauty that he portrays into the meaning of the body of David. Michelangelo’s success gained him much respect in the art world, and lead to the creation of the painting at the Sistine Chapel.

The acceptance of Greenough’s George Washington wasn’t as vast and as grand like Da Vinci and Michelangelo’s works. “While many viewers appreciated Greenough’s attempt to create a timeless masterpiece, others rejected an inappropriately dressed Washington” (NewsDesk), Greenough tried to use the highly appreciated work of the neo-classical era but it didn’t translate over. That wasn’t popular at the time, and made many people of the United States uncomfortable because at that time the largest form of religion was Christianity, when at the times of Michelangelo and Da Vinci the catholic church was in power and held much appreciation for the renaissance/neoclassical style. The time difference of when this peace was created was what cause it not to be accepted into that day and age, thus this led to the movement of the statue from where it was originally supposed to be.

The use of the ideal male figure introduced by Leonardo Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man sparked a great idealistic. This idealistic n the art world that brought out the true essence of how artists can take an idea and implement their own style into creating something so beautiful and stunning that has a meaning that can be sensed by only looking at that certain work. The way the artists portray their ideas into their creations are individualized to the artists own style. Even through many decades and centuries artist try to recreate or bring back to life an aspect of previous works into their own works, which makes the beauty of art truly magnificent, and truly beauty cannot be judged objectively, for what one person finds beautiful or admirable may not appeal to another, but the meaning behind the beauty will always stand out no matter where the art is created, and the reasons it is made.