Sunday, October 16, 2005
My Favorite Renaissance Man, Michelangelo
At The Louvre: Michelangelo's "Dying Slave"
Michelangelo has quickly become my favorite among the Renaissance artists. Yes, Leonard da Vinci was spectacular, but he was more of an Idea Man who invented a lot of things in addition to his paintings and sculpture, so he wasn't quite the devoted painter and sculptor Michelangelo was.
I don't think it was any cosmic accident that Michelangelo and da Vinci went to the same high school in Florence, Italy, the birthplace of The Renaissance.
For those of you lean on Art History lessons (I never took the class in college and now regret it deeply every time I darken the doorstep of The Louvre or any other art museum), The Renaissance was the rebirth of art and man away from The Church following the Dark Ages, which lasted from when The Roman Empire fell until about 1500, when artists like Michelangelo came to this earth and graced us with their presence.
This picture I took is of Michelangelo's Dying Slave. There's two of them together, the other called The Rebellious Slave, another sculpture of a similar man who is struggling against the bonds that tie him.
I've seen Michelangelo's David in Florence when we were there two years ago. It was my first Michelangelo sculpture, and once I saw David, I realized why Michelangelo was the sculptor of his time, and why everyone clamored to see him make more of his work.
David, like The Dying Slave and other works, are one of those things where you look at it, and it is so perfect, it becomes the standard by which all other sculptors are measured. His attention to anatomy and other details, not just in the medical sense but in the overall appearance of his work, makes his work especially stunning. When you look at David, his hands and feet are oversized, and it's very obvious when you stand in front of him. However, Michelangelo was commissioned to make David under the understanding that David would grace the top of the Duomo, the church at the center of Florence. When the people saw how beautiful David was, no one wanted to put him way up there on the Duomo, they wanted him down where they could admire him. And rightly so.
David, who is the David of "David and Goliath" Biblical fame, holds a slingshot in one hand and cradles rocks in the other, looking over his shoulder almost as he looks towards Goliath with a look that says "Yeah, I can bring him down."
Michelangelo also carved The Pieta (pronounced pee-ay-TAH), the image of Mary holding a dying Jesus which graces St. Peter's Basilica in The Vatican. In that sculpture, if you measured Mary, she would actually be 13 feet tall, but when you look at her she doesn't seem out of proportion at all, Michelangelo only made her that big so she could support the Jesus in her arms without appearing overwhelmed.
Coincidentally, The Pieta is the only signed Michelangelo work. The story goes that Michelangelo, who was only 25 when he made The Pieta, overheard two young women of Florence as they admired the work shortly after it was unveiled. One of them said that a rival artist had made it, and Michelangelo, whose ego was bruised, went to the back of it and carved his name into the stone afterwards.
I love little facts like that.