In Florence, Italy, people line up still in great numbers to see “The David” as I had done in 1985. I now recognize in Michelangelo’s masterpiece something which I had missed at the Galleria dell’Accademia, at the time. I have come to believe that this piece of sculpture that since August 1501 – twelve days after a republic was proclaimed in Florence – Michelangelo had worked on might well have been intended as a portrait of the institutional world of Michelangelo. The one in which the Church of Rome had become so large.
In the city of independence, the statue of David, itself a 4.34 meter marble giant, was produced between 1501 and 1504. This work commissioned by the City Council of Firenze soon after he had completed the Pieta that sits in Saint Peter’s Basilica. Was the size of the statue intended irony, in a story where the young boy killed a giant?
In his diary, Michelangelo wrote: “When I returned to Florence … the city council asked me to carve a colossal David from a nineteen-foot block of marble — and damaged to boot!” Dealing with his new fame. When Michelangelo had been David’s age he had become an apprentice to the painter Domenico Ghirlandaio, before going on to study sculpture in the Medici gardens and where he was invited into the household of Lorenzo de’ Medici, the Magnificent. There he met the next generation of Medici, two of whom later became pope (Leo X as well as Clement VII).
Knowledge without caring, belief without action. So was Michelangelo grieving over what has occurred to a beloved institution from which he had been immersed. Grieving like Mary Magdalene over the Messiah in the world, beyond belief.
Art that stays with us. Questioning how he had spent his time? For the power of the institution beyond caring for its people. The tradition which had begun from the culture of simple shepherds, which had come up against the Goliaths of the world in the beginning. When Goliath intended to kill a young David. Having to contend with the institutional vestments of giants which grew in power and might.
What had been going on in the world? When Columbus discovered a new world. Over what has been happening. After leaving and coming back, around 1501. In Florence. In his time, what had been happening to institutions. Because of a papacy?
Looking for the outward signs in art which unite us all. Again. As David considered taking another man’s life. Like Cain had once done, only now long after the Ten Commandments had been presented to Moses. The blasphemy of self-importance, in the present time, to take a life. When the institution of state approved. When done for a human cause? As a boy is forced into manhood.
A piece of marble to depict the initial scene that led one day to a kingdom. When a boy became a man. But it started with an evil act of murder with use of this slingshot. I got to view “The David,” said to be an image formed out of this deformed marble.
Why a focus on this moment in history? When Michelangelo was a young man himself. This was going to be his piece after his opening argument stated in the Pieta in Rome? When the artist was under the age of thirty. Why this moment in history? After the moment of the great Pieta left behind in Rome, in the scene when God was dead.
Where emperors organized the states of the empire into peace-keeping confederations. When the role of institutions was involved with peace-keeping, and living arrangements. As seen in Florence about the Romans down the road. In an all to real world.
And so the institutional world of Michelangelo, with all of its conflict. This David, on issues of life and death. If life had meaning. When the likeness which had begun the House of David had become so huge, like institutional religion in the days of Michelangelo. Seeing the world while living as a youth in the household of Lorenzo de’ Medici, the Magnificent. And so in the city of independence, this statue of liberty. Coming to realize, in the art, the godliness. This masterpiece says a lot to me about those creatures formed in God’s image and likeness. About all of us. With all of the conflict of humankind dealing with liberty.
THE WORLD. And all of its sickness. With an artistry in his works, noted for their deep sense of humanity if not place. Michelangelo’s world where emperors and popes organized the states of the empire into peace-keeping confederations. When the role of institutions was involved with peace-keeping, and living arrangements.
Michelangelo’s WORLD. You had to wonder what affect this world would have on your life as an artist. If you were Michelangelo. And so the tortuous ordeal which occurred a couple of thousand years before. Belief and connection, in that image of David which was so huge. When the likeness of someone who had begun the House of David had become so huge, like institutional religion? And that the world was never the same. After both a life, a death. Because David’s son Solomon had built the first great temple. Perhaps not too unlike the churches being built in Florence and Rome at the time.
Not yet questioning how he would spend his life? When the world was thought to be flat, with an artistry noted in art history for their deep sense of human anatomy in his works. Michelangelo’s world where emperors and popes organized the states of the empire into peace-keeping confederations. When the role of institutions was involved with peace-keeping, and living arrangements then in the Holy Roman Empire which in his lifetime had been fighting the Ottomans for over a century, with particular turbulence in nearby Hungary. The battles of Christian Europe with the Moslem Turks was why Christopher Columbus had been sent to find a western route to the east. When the world was thought to be flat.
David, living perhaps as in the days of Pope Sixtus IV, the Franciscan pope from 1471 through August 1484 when one of his first acts was to declare a renewed crusade against the Ottoman Turks, after Hungary had been fighting the Ottomans for close to a century. (The Ottomans were to descend upon Vienna in 1529. ) As pope, Sixtus IV issued a papal bull allowing local bishops to give to physicians and artists the bodies of executed criminals and unidentified corpses for dissection which allowed the anatomist Vesalius along with Titian’s pupil Jan Stephen van Calcar to complete the revolutionary medical/anatomical text De humani corporis fabrica. And this had an affect on the art of Michelangelo.
And so a sculptures of the lowest of the low shepherd of the day, who somehow was willing to sacrifice to affect change. In the name of God. Divinely inspired to take on the giants. When God was bigger than anyone ever thought.
And so Michelangelo. So what had he set out to say in this piece of art? At the beginning of his artistic life, not unlike this moment in the life of King David. And so pretty much alone. The lowest of the low shepherd of the day. In a scene wired for some kind of narrative, to an audience, why this sculptures? When a sculpture conveys a reality, you can get a glimpse into the way Michelangelo prayed? Michelangelo, leaving behind for a while the city of Rome to return home. In the age when Pope Sixtus IV, famed for his nepotism (six of the thirty-four cardinals he named were nephews), had started the Spanish Inquisition. Perhaps with so little appreciation for the history of Chosen People, like David. But where his papal accomplishments included the sponsorship of the Sistine Chapel, and the Vatican Archives. Pope Sixtus IV, who called upon his papal army to engage in war in Italy, in the War of Ferrara, fought between papal forces and Pope Sixtus’ Venetian allies against Ercole I d’Este, duke of Ferrara, capital city north-northeast of Bologna in the Province of Ferrara in Emilia-Romagna. In 1482–1484, when Michelangelowas a child. To check Venetian expansion in the terra firma, from the vantage point of the duke of Ferrara, in the battle of David versus Goliath? Because the city of Venice had risen in temporal power at this point in history – its high-point of Venetian territory – like never again. In the days before there ever was an Italy. It was when his ambassadors declared to him the terms of the Peace of Bagnoio, arrived at without consulting the pope, which killed Pope Sixtus when he was thrown into a violent rage, declaring the peace to be shameful and humiliating, as his long-suffering gout flew to his heart; the following day, he died. If gout could fly.
To see the real humanity in a statue. If you did not know what was going on in the world when this art was created, how could you ever understand what an artist was trying to say? When the Medicini family had been expelled from Florence in November 1494. Due to tyranny instead of responsible government. And so this moment when David might have thought that he never was coming back. By naming our denial and grief, we take the denial out of the shadows. David willing to give his life, offering up his body, for his people? Like a good shepherd. But in facing his own death, electing to take the life of Goliath at the same time.
Coming to realize, in the art, the godliness. In the human ordeal. At a moment when David might have thought that he never was coming back, to recognize the greatness stripped bare. Like that Isaac moment on Mount Moriah. David allegedly willing to give his life for his people. When the capacity is stretched of a young man to change a perspective. Only through sacrifice. David, considered in his day to be the lowest of the low – a shepherd boy willing to do something about it. Willing to give his life for his people, but in facing his own death, electing to take a life at the same time. David sinking to the level of Goliath, by killing. In self-defense, but contrary to the Jewish Sixth Commandment, “Thou shall not kill.”
Even with stones. With no exclusion when drafted into war. The tortuous ordeal inherited, in the likeness, of a king, or in a sinner. Like me. For one who took life, the world was never the same. Like God gave and took life, each day? And building a temple, to do something about it. By naming our denial and grief, we take the denial out of the shadows. In amending my life, when we build temples. And churches. In the name of God. After both a life, a death. When small stones become cornerstones, in the future. That I too may somehow be connected and may rise to greatness, with and for others. Because to different degrees, we were all sinners trying to learn how to pray — even after what occurred in a beloved institution — even after the tortuous ordeal for those who tried to still believe in an institution inherited.
Power and might. When perhaps even God grows, through the test of the different degrees of belief, of hope, about love over life in people like me. In our ordeals over the blasphemy of self-importance, as more and more human kings attempt to become giants, in the name of liberty. Without the humility of the son of David.