April 4, 2014 by Ray Yanek
I think it’s safe to say that Michelangelo’s David is one of the most recognizable pieces of Western art. We see David in pop culture, in memes, everywhere, and for good reason. David is a masterwork.
When things become familiar though, we take them for granted. We see those images so often that we look at them superficially, if not right past them. We believe that because those images are so familiar, they have nothing new to offer.
I do that a lot, and I’m realizing how much of a shame that is, because in just a couple quick swathes of research, I’ve found there’s a lot more to David then I realized.
— I feel stupid admitting this… but I never realized until reading an article in Tuscany Arts that Michelangelo’s David is left-handed. The versions of David that came before Michelangelo’s (from Donatello and Verrocchio) were both right handed.
— The shift from left to right-handed wasn’t the only significant difference between Michelangelo’s sculpture and its predecessors. Both Donatello’s and Verrocchio’s work show David after the beheading of Goliath and include the head of Goliath. Michelangelo’s work shows David before the battle. Centuries later, Bernini will create another David showing him smack dab in the middle of battle.
— In my opinion, this next item is one of the most amazing aspects of the statue. It’s one of those things that leaves you awestruck at the talent. Look back at the full picture of David above. From that angle, with the way he stands and with the tilt of his head, David looks calm and assured. Look at David’s face from only a slightly different angle though, and you see very different emotions. You see a touch of fear and trepidation as he seems to understand the monumental task he is about to undertake.
— Two other artists actually started using the marble that David was ultimately carved from, but discarded the material because of it’s poor quality. Think about that…one of the greatest works of Western art was carved from a piece of marble most artists would have tossed aside.
— Most people are aware that David is out of proportion, especially the hands and the fact that the torso is longer than the lower body. Michelangelo did this on purpose. When he was commissioned to create the statue, the sculpture was supposed to be perched high atop the Duomo. Michelangelo expected people to view the statue from a distance and from below, so he adjusted the proportions accordingly so that David’s torso would look natural when viewed in that manner and also so that the viewers attention would be drawn to the head and hands. Remember too that even though the statue is now on ground level, it’s still 16 ft tall, not including the pedestal.
— Michelangelo wanted the viewer’s attention to gravitate towards the hand because again according to Tuscany Arts, in the Middle Ages David was known to be “‘manu fortis”-strong of hand.”
— At 16 tons, however, the statue was far too heavy to be lifted to its proposed home. Plus, when people first saw it, they believed the piece was so beautiful it would be a travesty if people could not view it up-close. A council of artists and officials was formed to find the statue a new home. Supposedly, in a show of artistic jealousy, Leonardo da Vinci proposed, subtly, a location that would effectively hide the statue in a corner.
— David was finished in 1504. It was not until the year 2005 however, that someone
recognized that David has deviating eyes. Shaikh and Leonard-Amodeo state that “the right eye is in the primary position while the left eye appears to be looking out to the left.” This was no accident but was instead another artistic choice. Shaikh and Leonard-Amodeo remind us that if you circle the statue of David, only one eye is visible at a time. Shaikh and Leonard-Amedeo state:
“Approaching the statue from its left, the viewer notes that the left eye is staring towards (and above) him, as if focusing cunningly on the giant Goliath. However, the right eye is not fully visible from this angle because it is hidden behind the sling. If one stands to the statue’s right and circles around the right, the right eye remains visible but the left eye disappears. Michelangelo must have calculated every angle and considered the position of the viewer when carving out the eyes” (Shaikh and Leonard-Amedeo).
Why this had gone undiscovered for all those hundreds of years? Remember that the statute was intended to be viewed from below as the statue is about 16 feet high, not including the pedestal. The eye deviation can only be seen when looking directly at on the same level of David’s face.
Kind of amazing that no one ever thought to do that to a statue that we thought we were all so familiar with huh?
Lesson learned Michelangelo… lesson learned.