One might initially speculate that. perhaps on a personal level, the artist Michelangelo was able to identify with the concept of giant versus underdog.
This may explain why his statue of David is so massive, conveying the biblical character's spiritual strength over that of his opponent, Goliath, the warrior leader of the Philistines.
According to the biblical story told by the books of Samuel, Goliath was a Philistine warrior who, in a state of conflict with the Israelite army, challenged them to provide a volunteer to engage in hand-to-hand combat with him.
Opposing armies assembled, with the Philistines expecting an easy victory. The disbelief of all who witnessed the ensuing battle was never forgotten and the term "David and Goliath" has been carried over to this day.
In the end, David, armed only with a staff and sling, connected a clean shot to Goliath's forehead with a stone. When the giant was felled, David quickly cut off his head, securing a victory for the Israelite army.
The artist's full name was Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni, although he is best known simply as Michelangelo. Born in the Republic of Florence, or present day Tuscany, Italy on March 6, 1475, he was destined to sculpt David twenty-four years later.
The enormous block of Carara marble from which the statue of David was carved had been, in fact, cast aside by another Renaissance sculptor forty years earlier, an Agostino Di Duccio.
Agostino had begun some of the preliminary work of shaping parts of the legs, feet and torso of the over six ton block of marble but possessed neither the desire nor commitment to see the project through to completion.
In 1499 Michelangelo was asked to re-initiate the work by the consuls of the Guild of Wool in Florence and the statue was completed in 1604. It is his most famous work.
Michelangelo's passion was sculpting from marble. As a child, he grew up, after the death of his mother, with his nanny and her husband who was a stone cutter. His father owned a marble quarry so he spent a great deal of time watching stone being quarried and carved, as well as acquiring hands-on experience at an early age. As a youth, he also showed an interest in painting, over his studies, and he sought the company of artists. In so doing, he gained an apprenticeship under Domenico Ghirlandaio, one of a team of master painters who had been called upon by the Vatican to decorate the walls of the Sistine Chapel.
Briefly afterward, Michelangelo attended the Humanist Academy founded by the Medici, the unofficial ruling family of Florence. By the age of fourteen, from 1490 to 1492, he had completed the relief carvings Madonna of the Steps and Battle of the Centaurs. His gifts as a sculptor were already being made apparent. So opulent were his works throughout his life that, whether they were paintings or sculptures, his artwork resided predominantly in basilicas, cathedrals and tombs.
Most notably, after Madonna and the Steps and Battle of the Centaurs, the Pieta was completed in 1499, a breath-taking and moving sculpture of the grieving Virgin Mary in a seated position, holding the body of Jesus across her lap. At the age of twenty-four, he had completed what was subsequently regarded as one of the world's greatest masterpieces of sculpture. The Pieta is currently resting at St. Peter's Basilica.
To Michelangelo and other sculptors, the relative softness and translucency of marble as it compared to human flesh, made marble generally preferable to limestone, granite and bronze for carving figures. The actual carving itself involved using a chisel and a mallet. The chisel had to be held at precisely the right angle and the mallet needed to be struck with precisely the correct amount of force to chip away at the larger outer pieces. This was called "pitching." Precision became even more important when nearing the outer perimeter of the statue. Later on he may have used tooth chisels or claw chisels to create and define different textures on David when he was working on his hair and extremities. Michelangelo was famously quoted as saying: "Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to release it" as well as, "I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set it free."
It is believed that Michelangelo used a miniature model of David to create the full-sized version, which stands a towering seventeen feet tall. The model was thought to have perished in a fire at the Palazzo Vecchio and was subsequently found, with missing arms as well as portions of the legs.
Visual analysis of the statue shows that David's right hand is proportionately larger than the rest of his body. His stance has him resting the majority of his weight on his right hip, as if preparing to throw with his right hand. However, the way in which he's holding the stone suggests left-handedness. His genitals appear proportionately small, keeping in line with the way that nudes were stylized at that time, or perhaps to keep attention focused on the beauty of David's physique. David's face conveys anxiety, especially around the eyes, yet his posture appears relaxed and confident, as if his body is privy to the imminent outcome, but his mind is not. Currently there are two full-sized replicas of David: One which was placed in David's original home, in front of the Palazzo Vecchio and bronze David which rests on a perch in Piazzale Michelangelo.
The statue of David, itself, was inspired by ancient Roman art, especially Hercules, which espoused him even more to the people of Florence, who loved the ancient heroes. David took on political symbolism when the powerful Medici family was later exiled from Florence. The city took on the role of underdog from a moralistic point of view and their enemies were the Goliath. During this time of upheaval, the statue was attacked with a hammer causing minor damage, and had to be moved. Michelangelo's long-standing involvement with the reviled Medici family, however innocuous, may have been the cause of the attack. The original statue is currently at Academia Gallery in Florence and tickets are available to view this magnificent creation.
Until recently there has only been theory and documentation to support whether Michelangelo may have made any sculptures in bronze. Any sculptures made from bronze that he may have made risked being melted down over the ages and used to make metallic objects, primarily weapons. "The Rothschild Bronzes" or "The Panther Riders" statues have for decades, and with a degree of incertitude, been connected to Michelangelo, someone in his circle, or an artist of that time period. The sculptures are about a meter in height and are bronze figures of two nude, sinewy males with one muscular arm raised victoriously. With undaunted masculine strength and confidence, each figure sits astride a sleek, but submissive panther. Based on the sculpture's similarity to drawings made by one of Michelangelo's students and the fact that a neutron scan dated the bronzes to the first decade of the 16th century, experts are now attributing the sculptures to Michelangelo.
Bronze sculpting is an entirely different technique from sculpting with stone, yet still requires a great deal of skill and craftsmanship. Because "The Panther Riders" are relatively small in size, Michelangelo may have employed a simpler technique used for solid, as opposed to hollow statues. Using the technique for solid statues, an exact model was first made from wax with pieces of wax attached to the figure to act as channels for pouring as well as vents. The model was completely surrounded with clay and then heated to melt the wax and harden the clay simultaneously. Next, molten bronze or metal was poured into the channel that was formed by the attached piece of wax. Once the mold and sculpture were fully cooled, the mold was carefully broken open to reveal the bronze sculpture. Any imperfections were either sawed or filed off. The final step was polishing and perhaps, the application of a corrosive to create a patina. If these sculptures were indeed made by Michelangelo, they would be his only ones, and a true marvel.
In 1505, the artist started working on a number of other sculptures intended for the tomb of Pope Julius II. Some other notable sculptures included Moses, which now rests in the church of San Pietro in Vincoli. Two other sculptures intended for the tomb, but now on display at the Louvre are his Rebellious Slave and his Dying Slave.
From 1505 to 1506, he simultaneously began his work on the Sistine Chapel in Rome, both on its ceiling featuring scenes from Genesis, and its altar wall depicting The Last Judgment.
Unlike so many Renaissance artists, his genius was very much celebrated even when he was alive and he was aptly named "Il Divino," or "the Divine One." His catalogue of work includes over 40 predominately marble sculptures, including three tombs. He created numerous paintings, the great altar, and the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, measuring 40.23m x 13.40m. His inventory of architecture included libraries, chapels, city fortifications and more, as well as a substantial body of poetry.
Michelangelo had the fortune of making powerful connections very early in life and these connections seemed to be very much in grain with who he was, both spiritually and artistically. His apprenticeship with a master painter and exposure to quality people within his trade may have helped him to excel even more and garner greater opportunities to expand his work, more so than many other artists. The enduring ties he formed with the Medici family earned him even more quality work. He possessed either the ability or the good fortune, or both, to attract powerful clientele. Yet he was also gifted with the ability to secure and merit the adulation with which he was bestowed. The politically turbulent era in which he lived seemed to need his quality of genius at least as much as he needed it and while Michelangelo found work in Rome and The Vatican, he always returned home, to Florence.
Not only was Michelangelo divinely gifted with conveying unparalleled magnificence through his art, but he was an unbelievably hard-working, prolific producer of the highest order of work throughout his lifetime of eighty-eight years. His passion for his work may in part, have allowed him to live as long as he did. He seemed to find the greatness of a man who has no time to die.
David was a sculpture which raised Michelangelo's profile to new heights, eventually leading to the commission for work on the Sistine Chapel ceiling, plus the Last Judgement on an adjoining wall.
The beauty and sheer size of the David sculpture is known to have truly amazed many Florentines at the time that is was first unveilved, and it's popularity meant that it was moved from it's intended location to somewhere else where most local people could enjoy it.
The Piazza della Signoria was where the statue was placed for many years but now there is a reproduction in it's place, with the original being in the Academy Gallery (Galleria dell'Accademia).
Michelangelo was an artist of broad skills who joined Leonardo da Vinci in pushing the Renaissance into all manner of different areas, such as Literature, Architecture and Art. Michelangelo himself, though, will always be best known as a sculptor because of David plus Pieta, another landmark sculpture.
An interesting aspect to the creation and development of the David sculpture was that Michelangelo continued to amend the piece even after it had first been placed on display. This underlines his attention to detail as well as his personal commitment to this particular sculpture.
The David statue was to symbolise so much of what Florence stood for at the time that it was first unveiled, boasting a strength against impending dangers, which in the case of the city would come from other areas of the Papal States of Italy and other countries close by.
It was in 1501 that Michelangelo was given the task of taking an existing block of Marble which had been worked on several times previously, and finally turning it into a completed work that was worthy of the size and cost of the materials. Several other artists were consulted but it was Michelangelo who won the right to take on this considerable challenge.
The sculpture's modern day location in the Galleria dell'Accademia has ensured that the marble can be preserved as best as possible from the elements, having been neglected for many years before even Michelangelo began work on the final piece.
Michelangelo's David is shown in all it's glory throughout this website which covers the famous sculpture in full. There are also prints of it available to buy, from the enclosed links alongside each David image below.
Recommended retailer Art.com offer prints of the David Michelangelo sculpture for those who want to enjoy this exceptional art work in their own homes. Alongside photos of the David sculpture and also pictures of impressive paintings from the career of Michelangelo.
David is one of the most famous sculptures in the world and instantly recognisable, whilst also standing as one of the most respected contributions from the entire career of Michelangelo, labelled by many as a true Renaissance figure.
This website underlines the qualities of the Michelangelo sculpture and also touches on some of the other great works which came from this Tuscan-born innovator, who remains loved all around the world and his contributions have certainly not been forgotten.
Michelangelo was fundamental to the High Renaissance movement and his finest works included David, The Creation of Adam and Pieta. Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni, which was his full name, was born in Tuscany in 1475 and sits alongside Leonardo da Vinci in spearheading the most important period in Italian art.
Both of these incredible individuals had diverse skills that achieved success in many different fields at a time when people could easily work in different sectors.
Italian art was at the forefront of all of Europe during the 15th and 16th centuries, with Michelangelo helping to put Italian sculpture ahead of all else.
The Renaissance period helped to take art from the Middle Ages on towards all the contemporary ideas which we enjoy today, with the likes of Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci serving as a catalyst to the process which eventually arrived at what we have today.
David itself is amongst the major attractions within the cultural side of Italy, and many visitors make sure they get to see it for themselves as a highlight of a short stay within the country.
Many domestic art fans will also journey across the country to see it for themselves and there can be no doubt that is has become probably the most famous and instantly recognisable pieces of sculpture in history.
As a mark of achievement, it is still only one piece of the artist's career which should be studied.
Galleria dell'Accademia, Florence now hosts the 1504 masterpiece from an artist who chose to use Carrara marble for the entirety of this piece.
The confident pose and the accurate male anatomy is what sets this piece out from other notable sculptures to have come from Italy during the Renaissance, which itself was an incredible time in the development of sculpture as an impressive and respected art form alongside the likes of oil painting.
Pieta was a religious depiction of Jesus Christ after his Crucifixion as he his held in the arms of mother Mary.
This sculpture came just a few years before Michelangelo produced David and represents one of his best marble pieces.
The main difference between his Pieta and the others from artists of this period is that Michelangelo chose to portray Mary as considerably younger than others had done.
David depicts the historic character known for his battle and victory over Goliath though Michelangelo chose to depict him slightly differently to how others had at that time.
Typically, the obvious and popular choice was to cover his bravery and success with the symbolic head of Goliath which he had claimed himself during the battle.
David by Michelangelo is somewhat different, though, and offers a more personal insight into the character, and as the artist saw him.
Donatello and Verrocchio both produced their own impressive statues of David with a more familiar approach that was immediately appreciated with the mainstream art world.
Whilst they showed David with the head of Goliath, another Italian sculptor, Andrea del Castagno, chose to depict a more active hero. At that time, Florentine sculptors had always included the beaten villain giant in some form or another, but Michelangelo went against that.
The large size of the David sculpture was impressive to all of Michelangelo's contemporaries at that time and academics agreed at that time that it was certainly one of his most impressive works. Normally, artists, be it painters or sculptors, fail to get recognition until after there death.
Sometimes many generations must pass before their name and career finally get the recognition that they deserve but Michelangelo was certainly not such a person and was greatily admired then just as he is still now.
Hi, I'm Tom!
I'm the writer and founder of Michelangelo.net. I have studied different art movements for over 15 years, and am also an amateur artist myself! Read my bio here.