Tag Archives: Michelangelo

Michelangelo’s David

What trip to Florence would be complete without a visit to the Accademia to see David?

My first visit to Florence, I actually did NOT get to see David as I only had about 2 1/2 days, and back then unless you booked a tour group, the only way in was to get in the 2-3 hour line. Now, Florence the city offers a three-day, all-you-can-museum pass called the Firenze Card. It’s a bit pricey, but in my estimation well worth the 72 Euros because you can just wave it at the door and walk right in to the Uffizi, the Accademia, the Bargello and any of the other major public museums in the city. If you can make it in to say four museums in the three days, it’s more than paid for itself.

Back to the David – I had seen the copy that was made in the 19th century and placed in front of the Signoria on my previous visit, and I thought it was a good enough copy that I didn’t need to see the original. Having been now to see the original, I can say I was totally wrong. The public copy is an excellent copy, but it’s still just a high-end Xerox of Michelangelo’s. I tried with this composition to photograph it in a slightly less cliche fashion by including the architecture of the room.

David
David

There’s so much going on with this statue and its history. It was originally intended to stand on a pedestal on the outside of the Duomo along with a dozen or so other similar sculptures. The David was the only one of the group ever made, and it never was placed in its originally intended location. David came to symbolize the Florentine Republic, and as such, by the time he was finished, he was placed outside the Palazzo Vecchio in the Piazza della Signoria to remind Florentines of their independent status. The original statue stood outside in the rain and the wind and the sun and the snow for four centuries before being moved to the Accademia. In the 20th century, he was “restored” once, very poorly, and a second time, recently, with a far more gentle method. As a result of the cleanings, the exposure, and the hammer attack he was subjected to, there remains no actual surface which would have been touched by the hand of Michelangelo. In spite of this, the statue remains transcendent.

There’s a terrific book about the David, From Marble to Flesh: a Biography of Michelangelo’s David, by A. Victor Coonin. My only association with the book aside from having read it is that I was a Kickstarter backer of the original publication. If you look in the credits you’ll find my name. Regardless, the book tells the complete life story of David from his beginnings as a sculpture to be carved by someone else, Michelangelo taking over the task, his completion, public placement, life, moving from the Piazza to the Accademia (which took almost as long to accomplish in the late 1800s as it did to move from Michelangelo’s studio to the Piazza some four hundred years earlier), through to the cultural importance of David as a symbol in 21st century life.

Michelangelo and the “Unfinished” Sculptures

I had mentioned in an earlier post about Michelangelo and the “Unfinished” sculptures. Here are some of the pieces in the Accademia’s main hall.

Unfinished Sculpture
Unfinished Sculpture

If you look carefully at them, it’s hard to truly call them unfinished – there is a certain deliberateness about what is carved finely and what is left rough.

Unfinished Sculpture
Unfinished Sculpture

The coarse textures blend very naturally with the revealed forms. To my eyes, and from my (granted rather limited) experience of stone carving, this kind of texture and modeling is something done very intentionally.

Unfinished Sculpture
Unfinished Sculpture

While there are certainly areas that are unrefined, the transitions are fascinating and at the very least provide an insight into the working technique of a genius master sculptor, and given how far ahead he was in so many other aspects of his art, it is entirely possible for him to have been five centuries ahead of his time in his thinking, much the way Caravaggio’s paintings were.

Unfinished Sculpture
Unfinished Sculpture

And I couldn’t let the opportunity pass without remarking on something that virtually everyone who’s ever looked at a Michelangelo painting or sculpture of a woman has noticed- his women are really just men with boobs and long hair. The hand of Mary that’s supporting a very robust looking Jesus in this “unfinished” Pieta is one of the manliest hands I’ve ever seen on a woman.

Unfinished Pieta
Unfinished Pieta

Medici Tombs, Sagrestia Nuova

As promised in the previous post of the ceiling of the Sagrestia Nuova (also a Michelangelo design), here are the Michelangelo sculptures decorating the tombs of Lorenzo di Piero de Medici and Giuliano di Lorenzo de Medici. The great irony of this is that the greatest tombs in the Medici crypt go to the lesser members of the family – all the famous Medicis (Lorenzo Il Magnifico, Cosimo I, Guiliano, etc) are buried in the awe-inspiring-but-somber-and-over-the-top Medici Chapel, a giant domed octagonal chamber lined with dark marble mosaics and sarcophagi, or in the crypt below it.

Lorenzo di Piero de Medici, with Dusk and Dawn
Lorenzo di Piero de Medici, with Dusk and Dawn
Giuliano di Lorenzo with Day and Night
Giuliano di Lorenzo with Day and Night
Dusk, Medici Tomb
Dusk, Medici Tomb

The male figures of the tomb decorations both appear to be “unfinished”. While Michelangelo did leave Florence for Rome permanently before the sculptural figures were installed and all the tomb decorations complete, there is a debate in the art historical world about how “unfinished” they actually are, thus my use of quotation marks on the word unfinished. Michelangelo left behind enough sculptural works in rough form that some say he was really bad at completing projects, whereas others will argue that they are as finished as he intended them to be. Certainly his reputation as one of the greatest stone carvers ever to live has not been diminished by his “unfinished” pieces.

You can see more of his “unfinished” pieces at the Louvre in Paris and at the Accademia in Florence (the pieces at the Accademia are forthcoming in another blog post).

Dome, Medici Chapel, Basilica of San Lorenzo

As part of my Michelangelo pilgrimage (the secondary pilgrimage, with the Caravaggio quest being the first one), I wanted to see the Medici chapel with the famous tomb sculptures by Michelangelo. Photos of those sculptures are forthcoming, but first I wanted to lead off with this architectural view of the ceiling.

Dome, Medici Chapel, San Lorenzo
Dome, Medici Chapel, San Lorenzo

I wasn’t even thinking about it when composing the shot, but in looking at it afterward, there are all these repetitions of threes in the scene – three windows in the lantern, three circles, the lantern and the windows together forming not only a trio of light sources but a visual triangle, and so on.

San Lorenzo, Clouds, Florence

My take on the facade of San Lorenzo, the Medici family parish church and originally the primary cathedral for the city of Florence.

San Lorenzo Facade, Clouds, Florence
San Lorenzo Facade, Clouds, Florence

The facade is one of the most famous unfinished structures in Italy. The church was designed by Brunelleschi, but he died before it was completed. The Medici family, who were financing the construction of the church, commissioned Michelangelo to design a new facade. He built a scale model, but the design was never executed. In 2009, a CGI model of his design was projected on the existing facade for a period of time to gauge reaction to completing the facade, but nothing more has come of it. While the Michelangelo design is quite beautiful, the current facade has sat as-is for over 500 years, so I think it would be a sacrilege to both the existing building and the Michelangelo design to build it now.

Paris in October – part 10 – Art

We’ll start with the Louvre museum. Here are some photos of the building itself. The Pyramid, the glass entrance structure that opens to the underground entrance lobby, is fascinating in itself for the geometry it creates and the possibilities for abstraction, and for the clash of modernity against 18th and 19th century architectural sensibilities that hallmark the rest of the building.

The Pyramid, from below
The Pyramid, from below
Pyramid, Boy
Pyramid, Boy

Under the pyramid there is a vast entrance plaza with a huge spiral stairs. In the center of the spiral stairs is the accessibility elevator, a cylinder that rises and falls to transport people to and from the plaza above, and looks like it should be a stage set from 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Spiral Stair, Louvre Entrance

Spiral Stair, Under the Pyramid
Spiral Stair, Under the Pyramid

The contrast, a Napoleonic-era entrance ramp and doors (see the N’s in the frieze above the windows and doors). This is empty because the courtyard is closed to the public and filled with construction equipment.

Courtyard, Louvre
Courtyard, Louvre

As you can see, the Louvre is a VERY busy museum. I don’t know if it is the most visited art museum in the world or not (I think it is), but it also has to be one of the largest if not the largest. I really only saw parts of one wing of the museum (there are three), and you could easily spend a half a day in there every day for a month and still not see everything.

The Grand Gallery
The Grand Gallery
Visitors, Napoleon crowns Josephine
Visitors, Napoleon crowns Josephine

The grand gallery is where the Italian Renaissance masterworks are held – the three non-Mona Lisa DaVincis are here, along with the Caravaggios – highlights of the collection that most interested me.

In the section with the 19th century French paintings, there was a painter with his easel set up, copying the famous painting of the cavalryman in the bearskin hat. I couldn’t resist taking this shot as much because of the “no photography” sign he had on his easel. I’ll justify it by saying that I think it had more to do with not wanting to be disturbed by flashes popping than anything else.

Copyist, Louvre
Copyist, Louvre

The Louvre has perhaps the very best collection of Michelangelo’s sculpture outside of Italy. Two of the Medici tomb sculptures are in the sculpture gallery, and are of intense interest to me because they are part of the “unfinished” pieces in style. There is still significant debate as to whether the “unfinished” pieces are in fact unfinished or if their appearance is exactly what Michelangelo intended. They are called “unfinished” because they have coarse textures in parts and tool marks are prominent over significant portions of the pieces, to the point that some portions of the pieces are in fact only roughed-in forms without complete features.

Michelangelo, Dying Slave
Michelangelo, Dying Slave
Michelangelo, Rebellious Slave
Michelangelo, Rebellious Slave
Michelangelo, "Unfinished" figure
Michelangelo, “Unfinished” figure

Finally, we have some other sculptural pieces from the Louvre. The Cupid with Butterfly is actually in a side gallery where touching is allowed.

Renaissance Bust, Louvre
Renaissance Bust, Louvre
Renaissance Bust, Louvre
Renaissance Bust, Louvre
Cupid, Butterfly, Louvre
Cupid, Butterfly, Louvre
Statue, Sculpture Gallery, Louvre
Statue, Sculpture Gallery, Louvre

Michelangelo’s David/Apollo

Michelangelo's David/Apollo
Michelangelo’s David/Apollo

From January to March of this year, Michelangelo’s David/Apollo, normally resident in the Bargello museum in Florence, was on loan to the National Gallery of Art in DC. Being a huge Michelangelo fan, I had to go see it. The last time it was exhibited here in the US was during Harry Truman’s presidency. In fact, there are only three known or attributed works by Michelangelo in the United States (a drawing and two sculptures, one of which is in a private collection), so it’s a rare day when you can get to see something from his hand.

One of Michelangelo’s “unfinished” sculptures, much speculation exists around the entire series of the “unfinished” carvings – were they unfinished because Michelangelo was always biting off more than he could chew and didn’t have time, or did he deliberately leave them “unfinished” because he was making an artistic statement about the relationship between the image, the stone and the carving? Either way, they make for a tantalizing insight into the mind and the technique of one of the world’s greatest sculptors.

 David/Apollo Admirer
David/Apollo Admirer

I’m almost as fascinated by the people who come to look at art as I am the art itself. Sometimes (frequently, actually) I’m very annoyed with museum patrons because they’ll blithely traipse right between you and a work or the wall label for it that you’re trying to look at, rented headset on, completely oblivious to the fact that you now cannot read or see the exhibit. But when they’re not blocking your view, the way they look at art is endlessly interesting. Some will point, some will stand back and appraise, some will “print-sniff” and get close enough the guards have to warn them off. Some will ingest silently, others will pontificate to their audience of friends (and anyone else within earshot), often as not with art history textbook opinions and/or not entirely accurate “facts” about the artwork and/or the artist.