Monday August 16, 2021’s Smile of the Day: The Statue of David
On this Day:
In 1501, Michelangelo was awarded the contract to create his statue of David by the Overseers of the Office of Works (the Operai) of the Duomo, Florence’s cathedral church.
David is a masterpiece of Renaissance sculpture, created in marble between 1501 and 1504 by the Italian artist Michelangelo. David is a 5.17-metre (17 ft 0 in) marble statue of the Biblical figure David, a favoured subject in the art of Florence.
David was originally commissioned as one of a series of statues of prophets to be positioned along the roofline of the east end of Florence Cathedral, but was instead placed in a public square, outside the Palazzo Vecchio, the seat of civic government in Florence, in the Piazza della Signoria, where it was unveiled on 8 September 1504. The statue was moved to the Galleria dell’Accademia, Florence, in 1873, and later replaced at the original location by a replica.
Because of the nature of the figure it represented, the statue soon came to symbolize the defence of civil liberties embodied in the Republic of Florence, an independent city-state threatened on all sides by more powerful rival states and by the hegemony of the Medici family. The eyes of David, with a warning glare, were fixated towards Rome.
The history of the statue begins before Michelangelo’s work on it from 1501 to 1504. Prior to Michelangelo’s involvement, the Overseers of the Office of Works of Florence Cathedral, consisting mostly of members of the influential woolen cloth guild, the Arte della Lana, had plans to commission a series of twelve large Old Testament sculptures for the buttresses of the cathedral. In 1410, Donatello made the first of the statues, a figure of Joshua in terracotta. A figure of Hercules, also in terracotta, was commissioned from the Florentine sculptor Agostino di Duccio in 1463 and was made perhaps under Donatello’s direction. Eager to continue their project, in 1464, the Operai contracted Agostino to create a sculpture of David.
A block of marble was provided from a quarry in Carrara, a town in the Apuan Alps in northern Tuscany. Agostino only got as far as beginning to shape the legs, feet, torso, roughing out some drapery, and probably gouging a hole between the legs. His association with the project ceased, for reasons unknown, with the death of Donatello in 1466, and ten years later Antonio Rossellino was commissioned to take up where Agostino had left off. Rossellino’s contract was terminated soon thereafter, and the block of marble remained neglected for 26 years, all the while exposed to the elements in the yard of the cathedral workshop. This was of great concern to the Opera authorities, as such a large piece of marble was not only costly, but represented a large amount of labour and difficulty in its transportation to Florence.
In 1500, an inventory of the cathedral workshops described the piece as “a certain figure of marble called David, badly blocked out and supine.” A year later, documents showed that the Operai were determined to find an artist who could take this large piece of marble and turn it into a finished work of art. They ordered the block of stone, which they called ‘the Giant’ “raised on its feet” so that a master experienced in this kind of work might examine it and express an opinion. Though Leonardo da Vinci and others were consulted, it was Michelangelo, at 26 years of age, who convinced the Operai that he deserved the commission. On 16 August 1501, Michelangelo was given the official contract to undertake this challenging new task. He began carving the statue early in the morning on 13 September, a month after he was awarded the contract. He would work on the massive statue for more than two years.
The pose of Michelangelo’s David is unlike that of earlier Renaissance depictions of David. The bronze statues by Donatello and Verrocchio represented the hero standing victorious over the head of Goliath, and the painter Andrea del Castagno had shown the boy in mid-swing, even as Goliath’s head rested between his feet, but no earlier Florentine artist had omitted the giant altogether. According to most scholars, David is depicted before his battle with Goliath. Instead of being shown victorious over a foe much larger than he, David looks tense and ready for battle after he has made the decision to fight Goliath, but, before the battle has actually taken place. His brow is drawn, his neck tense, and the veins bulge out of his lowered right hand. His left hand holds a sling that is draped over his shoulder and down to his right hand, which holds the handle of the sling. The nudity reflects the story of David as stated in the Bible, I Samuel 17:38-39: “And Saul armed David with his armour, and he put an helmet of brass upon his head; also he armed him with a coat of mail. And David girded his sword upon his armour, and he assayed to go; for he had not proved it. And David said unto Saul, I cannot go with these; for I have not proved them. And David put them off him.”
The twist of his body effectively conveys to the viewer the feeling that he is about to move; an impression heightened with contrapposto. The statue is a Renaissance interpretation of a common ancient Greek theme of the standing heroic male nude. In the High Renaissance, contrapposto poses were thought of as a distinctive feature of antique sculpture, initially materialised in the Doryphoros of Polykleitos (c. 440 BC). This is typified in David, as the figure stands with one leg holding its full weight and the other leg forward. This classic pose causes the figure’s hips and shoulders to rest at opposing angles, giving a slight s-curve to the entire torso. The contrapposto is emphasized by the turn of the head to the left, and by the contrasting positions of the arms.
Michelangelo’s David has become one of the most recognized works of Renaissance sculpture; a symbol of strength and youthful beauty. The colossal size of the statue alone impressed Michelangelo’s contemporaries. Vasari described it as “certainly a miracle that of Michelangelo, to restore to life one who was dead,” and then listed all of the largest and most grand of the ancient statues that he had ever seen, concluding that Michelangelo’s work surpassed “all ancient and modern statues, whether Greek or Latin, that have ever existed.”
The proportions of the David are atypical of Michelangelo’s work; the figure has an unusually large head and hands (particularly apparent in the right hand). The small size of the genitals, though, is in line with his other works and with Renaissance conventions in general, perhaps referencing the ancient Greek ideal of pre-pubescent male nudity. These enlargements may be due to the fact that the statue was originally intended to be placed on the cathedral roofline, where the important parts of the sculpture may have been accentuated in order to be visible from below. The statue is unusually slender (front to back) in comparison to its height, which may be a result of the work done on the block before Michelangelo began carving it.
It is possible that the David was conceived as a political statue before Michelangelo began to work on it. Certainly, David the giant-killer had long been seen as a political figure in Florence, and images of the Biblical hero already carried political implications there. Donatello’s bronze David, made for the Medici family, perhaps c. 1440, had been appropriated by the Signoria in 1494, when the Medici were exiled from Florence, and the statue was installed in the courtyard of the Palazzo della Signoria, where it stood for the Republican government of the city. By placing Michelangelo’s statue in the same general location, the Florentine authorities ensured that David would be seen as a political parallel as well as an artistic response to that earlier work. These political overtones led to the statue being attacked twice in its early days. Protesters pelted it with stones the year it debuted, and, in 1527, an anti-Medici riot resulted in its left arm being broken into three pieces.
Commentators have noted the presence of foreskin on David’s penis, which is at odds with the Judaic practice of circumcision, but is consistent with the conventions of Renaissance art (per Wikipedia).
First, a Story:
Michelangelo’s Statue of David is one of the most important artworks ever created with marble.
But I’ve always taken it for granite.
Second, a Song:
From Harry Massoud Music on YouTube.com:
“My name is Harry Massoud and the main purpose of this YouTube channel is to simply share my love and passion for music with others. I love composing and arranging music. The main feature of this channel is my custom piano arrangements for film scores ranging from older films up to more modern films. Sheet music for my all of my arrangements can be purchased through Musicnotes.com.
You can explore all of that sheet music here: https://www.musicnotes.com/sheet-music/artist/harry-massoud
Thank you and enjoy listening to my videos!
– Harry Massoud”
“This is an orchestral/instrumental song I composed and recorded on garage band. I plan to remake this song one day with Logic Pro X and high quality sample virtual instruments to get a better overall sound in the song.
This song was inspired after reading a biography on the life of King David and particularly his famous battle with Goliath. I wrote the song and then thought it would be fun to add a clip from any one of the David and Goliath scenes that have been portrayed in motion pictures.
I chose this one (from the movie, “King David) because it fit my song which I had already written and recorded. The duration and scene timing was all much more in sync with my song.” (per YouTube.com).
King David is a 1985 American Biblical epic film about the life of David, the second King of the Kingdom of Israel, as recounted in the Hebrew Bible. The film is directed by Bruce Beresford, written by Andrew Birkin and James Costigan, and stars Richard Gere in the title role. The ensemble cast includes Edward Woodward, Alice Krige, Denis Quilley, Cherie Lunghi, Hurd Hatfield, John Castle, Jean-Marc Barr, Christopher Malcolm, and Gina Bellman.
King David was released by Paramount in the United States on March 29, 1985, while in other countries it was released in 1986 and 1987. Upon release, the film received mostly negative reviews for its screenplay writing, pace, some of the acting and the action sequences. However, Gere’s performance and the cinematography were praised. In addition to being a critical failure, the film was also a box-office failure, grossing $5.9 million worldwide against its $21 million production budget.
Here is “David and Goliath”, composed by Harry Massoud, set to a scene from King David. I hope you enjoy this!
Thought for the Day:
“The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark.” – Michelangelo
Further to the First Book Smile, Teri Kashi of Soldotna, Alaska (but temporarily in Whitefish, Montana, USA), writes:
Hello Dave and Colleen!
These are so fascinating!
I have one to pass on. I actually didn’t discover the book, but ordered a copy and read it. A friend told me about it and suggested I read it. Glad I did. It was very quaint and a fun read.
The book is available on Amazon Kindle for free and a paperback for $7.77. Hardback is $28-something. I ordered the paperback and it is a good copy, oversized paperback.
Queed is a 1911 novel by Henry Sydnor Harrison, which was the fourth-best selling book in the United States for 1911.
What’s interesting is the definition alteration over the years.
queed – Urban Dictionary
https://www.urbandictionary.com › define › term=queed
contextual definition: Someone you dislike a lot who has the qualities of a complete asshole/douche bag, and often have an awkward appearance.
queed: meaning, origin, definition – WordSense Dictionary
https://www.wordsense.eu › queed
(obsolete) Evil; harm. (obsolete) An evil person; especially, the evil one; the devil. Entries with “queed”. quede
Anyway…thought you might find this tidbit fun!
Hope you are doing well…
Editor: From GoodReads.com, a review of Queed by Becky:
“Mr. Queed is a very serious, proud, and socially awkward young man who moves to a southern state from New York City after receiving a written request from his father, whom he has never met. Queed rigorously devotes all his time to writing his magnum opus on evolutionary sociology. However, he avoids the company of others as much as possible, showing no interest even in learning the identity of his mysterious father. Against his will and at great sacrifice to his beloved Schedule, Queed takes [a] job as an editor at the local paper to pay the rent. Subsequent blows to his ego, including nearly being fired for incompetence, lead him to admit friends and exercise into his life and he grows from a sullen recluse to a well-rounded man.
The novel has a fantastic cast of well developed characters, including one of the oddest heroes you’ll ever meet. The wry language of the author is a treat throughout the novel as he goes off on various interesting tangents about journalism, social causes, and the post-war South. I had no idea what the book was about when I picked it up and I could barely put it down once I did.
“Thanks for a great read on the Mainz Psalter. It reminds me of the story of the fellow who saw a copy of the Gutenberg Bible in an antiquities shop. He said to the shopkeeper “I had one of these a while ago, but I gave it away.” The shop keeper said “Do have any idea how much that book is worth?” To which the fellow replied “It probably wasn’t all that valuable. Some guy named Luther had scribbled notes all the way through it.”
Have a great day!
Dave & Colleen
© 2021 David J. Bilinsky and Colleen E. Bilinsky