Michelangelo's David

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Michelangeloʼs “David”

1501-1504

 



The Renaissance emerged from a new vision of the world called Humanism. Humanism put forth a new system of thought which centered on the rediscovery of the Antiquity and the importance of the humanistic values in society. Manʼs happiness, intellectual and political emancipation are only three of the most prominent concepts of the Renaissance. Man is considered Godʼs masterpiece, the center of the world and the measure of all things. The Renaissance was born at the point between the 14th and the 15th centuries in Italy, and marked the end of the middle ages, and the beginning of the modern era. At the time, the Italian cities of Venice, Florence, Milan, etc. were the most flourishing powers of Europe thanks to their fleets, banks, and trade. Michelangelo brought Renaissance to its highest point and showed the road to be followed by his successors and pupils. This paper discusses Michelangeloʼs David in the context of the Italian Renaissance, and its significance to the life of the artist who created in at the beginning of the sixteenth century. From this perspective, David is largely considered Michelangeloʼs most important artistic achievement, and one of the most famous and widely appreciated masterpieces of the Renaissance.

The context in which the statue was commissioned is very interesting. When Michelangelo returned to Florence in the spring of 1501 after a five-year long absence, he discovered a considerably different city. Savonarola had been condemned by the Catholic Church for heresy, hanged and then burned in the Piazza in May 1498. This was the emergence point of a new government, and also of a new constitution, based   2 

on the old one but radically changed. The new constitution allowed a lifetime Gonfaloniere, similar to the Venetian Doge (Hibbard 51). Consequently, on November 1, 1502, Pietro Soderini, a great supporter and admirer of Michelangeloʼs, was elected as the first Gonfaloniere for life. In this context, upon returning to Florence, Michelangelo got a commission that would establish him as the leading artist of the city, and the premier artistic figure of Italian Renaissance. Without a doubt, David (1501-1504) is Michelangeloʼs masterpiece, the embodiment of all civic virtues and a true expression of the titanic unfinished manner of the sculptor.

Art is the expression of artistic vision but it also does carry the sign of the period of time when it was created. Michelangeloʼs David belongs was executed during the High Renaissance which lasted from 1500 up until 1525. The Renaissance was synonymous to significant advances as far as science and painting techniques, where a new perspective was developed with the incredible contribution of Leonardo da Vinci. By the year 1425 the Renaissance was more pervasive in Florence than anywhere else. Why is Florence regarded as the center of Renaissance? Florence was economically strong because it was commercially successful which also allowed it to be a selfgoverning state with great appreciation of art, in other words, the ideal climate for the Renaissance ideals. Renaissance sculpture brought back the ancient Greek and Roman ideals of beauty of the human body. Statues are imposing, usually considerable in size and aim at showing the greatness of a particular character that it depicts. During the   3 

Renaissance, mostly all sculpture had a focus on a figure which was placed on its own on a pedestal, and the accent was placed on posture and grace. Michelangeloʼs life is a symbol of manʼs struggle against unrelenting material, the blindness of other human beings and the events of a stormy period in history. The happy and prolific period in his life ended when Lorenzo the Magnificent died in 1492. At Lorenzoʼs palace in Florence Michelangelo had studied Platonic philosophy which greatly contributed to his artistic vision especially in terms of inspiration, and had met great thinkers such as Marsilio...
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