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The Art of Sculpting: Michelangelo’s David Research Paper

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Updated: Sep 13th, 2020


Michelangelo is among the few individuals who are eminently known by their Christian names. Indeed, even as a youngster, all that he sought after was paint and to be an art practitioner. He was able to practice with a number of fine artists and philosophical experts of that age. Growing up in Florence amid the Italian Renaissance was the ideal setting for youthful Michelangelo (Cronin 6). The Renaissance was an era in the history of Europe that was exemplified by blossoming culture, starting in Florence towards the end of the 15th century and, from then on, spread to whatever remains of Europe up to the 16th century. Its impact influenced writing, philosophical thinking, work of art, governmental issues, science, religious conviction, and so forth (Goffen 12).

Michelangelo’s initial work was an excellent sculpture known as Pieta. He made Pieta before he was 25 years of age. Pieta symbolizes Jesus lying in his mother’s lap and was made from a mass of marble using a chisel, a tack hammer, and pumice rocks. As a matter of fact, it is believed that Pieta was the only piece of Michelangelo’s work that he ever signed (Coonin 23). David was Michelangelo’s greatest piece of work, which turned out to be a gem.

It took him almost a half a decade to complete (between 1501 and 1504). David was carved from a block of Tuscan marble. It is 14.0 ft. high and weighs 12478.1 lbs. It was the biggest sculpture to be made since Ancient Rome. It is regarded by numerous specialists in the work of art as a near-flawless model (Baldwin 3).

The sculpture shows the biblical King David, standing nude and confidently clutching his slingshot before his fight with the giant Goliath. Michelangelo once alleged that the figure was caught inside the piece of marble and it was his business to set it free. According to Giorgio Vasari, a painter and blogger, anybody who has seen Michelangelo’s David don’t need to see any other sculpture made by anyone else, deceased or alive.

He describes David as a work of perfection in terms of proportion and beauty (Lavin 3). Michelangelo’s piece was different from the previous Renaissance portrayal of David. The metallic sculpture by Donatello and Verrochio depicted David as a champion standing triumphantly over Goliath’s head, whereas Castagno who was a painter represented David as a teenager in mid-swing with the head of Goliath resting on his feet; no previous artists had ever omitted Goliath in their work (Baldwin 9).

Interpretation of Michelangelo’s statue of David

In Michelangelo’s statue, David is portrayed before the fight and he looks anxious and prepared for the battle. The sculpture seems to depict David after he has settled on the choice to fight Goliath, but before the fight has really occurred, a few seconds between decision and action. His forehead is drawn, his neck strained and the veins swelled on the lower side of his right hand. The twisted state of his body efficiently passes on to the observer the feeling that he is in motion, an impression enhanced by his contrapposto pose. The contrapposto pose was considered as a unique element of vintage art during the Renaissance period (Lavin 17).

Contrapposto pose is encapsulated in David, as the statue stands on one leg, while the other leg is leaned forward. This great stance causes the statue’s hips and shoulders to rest at contrasting standpoints, providing a slender s-shaped bend to the whole trunk. The contrapposto is underscored by the turn of the head to one side, and by the divergent positions of the arms.

Michelangelo’s David has turned out to be a standout amongst the most acknowledged works of Renaissance carving, a sign of potency and youthful splendor. It was the immense size of the sculpture that captivated Michelangelo’s generation. For Vasari, it was “unquestionably supernatural for Michelangelo to bring back to life a person who was dead,” and that David was the greatest piece of work that he has ever come across (Lavin 3).

The proportions of the statue are uncharacteristic of Michelangelo’s work; the sculpture has a bizarrely expansive head and hands (especially on the right hand). The diminutive size of the private parts, however, is in accordance with many of his works and with Renaissance traditions in general, maybe referencing the deep-rooted Greek representation of pre-adolescent male nakedness (McClinton 12).

These extensions might be because of the way that the sculpture was initially planned to be put on the church’s buttress, where the significant features of the statue may have been emphasized with a specific end goal of being noticeable from underneath. McClinton explains that “the statue was originally planned for the Cathedral roofline so that the mass could view it from beneath” (12). The statue is abnormally thin (from back to front) in contrast with its stature, which might be an aftereffect of the work done on the block of Tuscan marble before Michelangelo started sculpting it. The marble had been abandoned by two sculptors who had already defaced it” (McClinton 13).

Symbolism in Michelangelo’s statue of David

It is probable that David was regarded as a political sculpture before Michelangelo started to carve it. Indeed, David the giant-slayer had for quite some time been seen as a political figure in Florence, and portraits of the Biblical legend conveyed political implications there (Hall 31). Since the late 14th century, David was used as a nationalistic symbol in the state of Florence. In the period, when European territories were predominantly ruled by Monarchs and medieval rulers except for Venice, Florence used the sacredly predestined triumph of David over Goliath as an example of their own conquest over medieval lords who were keen to control their territory (Goffen 14).

In the mid-14th century, Donatello had by then made two statues of youthful David, both on platforms engraved with nationalistic catchphrases regarding how meekness can overcome pride. More artists from Florence kept on carving more statues of David in the late 15th century, for example, Verrocchio and Castagno. All of these artists presented the youthful David described in the holy book to accentuate the astounding nature of his triumphant and the corresponding subject of God keeping an eye on Florence (Goffen 15). Ironically, a Florentine assertion on divinely preferred modesty was mere propaganda. This is because Florence had an extended history of capturing nearby towns and taking up arms against adjacent urban areas (Lavin 11).

Commissioned by the bench for the second most critical public structure in Florence, the statue was considered from the beginning as an additional pro-republic symbol of Florentine supremacy, sacredness, triumphant, and celestial presence (Hall 36). Once the sculpture was completed, the bench realized that they could attach much more political significance from this extraordinary statue by relocating it to a more conspicuous area. Its grown-up quality made it perfect for the essential public structure during the period when Florence was still reveling on the ejection of the Medici a decade before and willing to set up notices to a number of them who were still plotting a comeback (Hall 38).

Given the political ramifications of David as a Florentine symbol of supremacy, willpower, and belief in divine victory, it becomes obvious why Michelangelo abolished the heathen model of David that influenced the previous artistic works. By portraying David before the battle, Michelangelo is able to depict him as a rational human who is making a sentient decision to act. It shows his ability to resolve problems and attain greater objectives by reasoning and applying scientific techniques (Coonin 8).

It also depicts the fundamental Florentine value of public virtue as opposed to the ethereal inaction of the medieval tradition. Michelangelo, like other humanists, sought to give the kiss of life to the classical concept of public duty. Michelangelo himself was dedicated to the state of Florence and wanted its residents to be cognizant of their social obligations and commitment to the fight for liberty. And so, he carved a colossal statue partly as a symbol of the absolute freedom and autonomy enjoyed by Florentine which, though under constant threat from more dominant states, was to be defended at whatever cost from all corners. He wrote in one of his journals that whoever administered Florence ought to do it fairly and defend it courageously (Baldwin 5).


Michelangelo’s David is unquestionably one of the greatest pieces of art in the history of humanity. Up-to-date, the piece has seen millions of people flock the city of Florence just to have a glance at it. It was the first colossal piece of a free-standing statue made since ancient Greek and Rome. The statue had both religious and sociopolitical implications and, therefore, was highly cherished. Its political ramification was the reason why it was relocated to a more conspicuous location.

Works Cited

Baldwin, Robert. David placed in front of the Palazzo Vecchio, 1501-4, Connecticut: Connecticut College, 2009. Print.

Coonin, Victor. From Marble to Flesh: The Biography of Michelangelo’s David, Florence, Florence: The Florentine Press, 2014. Print.

Goffen, Rona. Renaissance Rivals: Michelangelo, Leonardo, Raphael, Titian, Yale: Yale University Press, 2002. Print.

Hall, James. Michelangelo and the Reinvention of the Human Body, New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005. Print.

Lavin, Irvin. Past to Present: Essays on Historicism in Art from Donatello to Picasso, California: University of California Press, 2012. Print.

McClinton, Brian. “Humanistic Masterpieces: Michelangelo’s David.” Humanism Ireland 117 (2009):12-13. Print.

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