Two years ago in February we were in Florence Italy and I wrote this piece about seeing Michelangelo’s David.
“He’d a make a great basketball player. Look at those big hands.” That was my husband Dave’s first comment as we walked up to the statue of Michelangelo’s David in the Academia Gallery in Florence, Italy. The white marble statue is 17 feet high and shows David ready to fight Goliath, the Philistine giant. David’s hands do look big, but Michelangelo made them that way because initially David was created to stand outside a palace, rather than in an art gallery.
Michelangelo thought people would be viewing David from far away. He wanted them to be able to see all the details of his statue, including David’s hands. Although some people think the 29-year-old Michelangelo made a mistake when he carved David’s large hands, experts agree their size was deliberate. At age 24 Michelangelo began visiting morgues. He would cut up unclaimed corpses and study their anatomy. He was as well-trained as any physician in the body’s structure. He wouldn’t have made a mistake with David’s hands. He wanted them to be larger than life and powerful.
Two other artists had rejected the piece of marble Michelangelo used for David, because they claimed it lacked perfection. Michelangelo was able to create something beautiful despite the flawed material he had been given.
We visited the statue of David on a February day along with a few other hardy souls who were braving Florence at the coldest time of the year. The absence of the crowds that usually mill around David made it possible for us to spend about 40 minutes examining him from every side.
David has a determined, focused look in his eye. You can see the veins in his hands and the clear outline of his rib cage. His elbows appear calloused and rough and his feet are crusty and cracked. His cheeks are smooth and his upper lip is just a little bigger than the lower one. His nostrils are slightly flared, his brow mildly furrowed and his hair classically curly. Besides noticing David’s big hands my husband also noted that the nude David wasn’t circumcised, as all Jewish boys would have been. I did a little research and discovered the ancient Jewish method of circumcision only involved a small tip snip and not the more extensive operation common in the modern-day. If you look closely, the figure of David is indeed circumcised in the traditional way.
It is interesting that four other statues also carved by Michelangelo, have been placed along the long hallway leading up to the statue of David. Each of the four shows a prisoner trying to break free of his bonds. They are said to represent the efforts of humans to liberate themselves from whatever oppresses them. This is most fitting since Michelangelo has captured an image of David just as he is about to free his people from the oppression of the Philistines.
My husband Dave is right. Michelangelo’s David does have big hands. He also has a big heart, one filled with enough courage, confidence and youthful enthusiasm to try the impossible and succeed. Just the way his creator Michelangelo succeeded when he took an imperfect piece of marble and turned it into something that has become one of the most universally recognized pieces of art in the world.
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