Calder Classics

Renaissance Man About Town: Devaluing and Revaluing Michelangelo’s David

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by Blue Smiley



    Michelangelo’s David, while a celebrated masterwork with nuanced political history within Florence, has acquired a flattened image as a mere aesthetic token or icon for the city. No one in the city center could travel more than a couple of blocks without seeing David’s image reproduced somewhere on a poster, on a postcard, in plaster, or even perhaps in cheese. (I’m sure it's been done.) This begs a curious observer to question the role of David in the minds of his visitors. When tourists visit Florence to see David, are they here for a more profound understanding of the statue's artistic and cultural merits or to check off another box on their bucket lists? Whatever the ultimate answer to this question, images of David’s complex expression, internalized yet powerful, are strewn about the city just as abundantly as cigarette butts.

    Upon entering the Galleria dell’Accademia and seeing his face for the first time in person, I was dramatically underwhelmed. It was him, but it was only that man who walks the streets of Florence with as much ease and nonchalance as any living resident. Here he was, at the same angle at which most photos are taken, his life sapped by this resemblance to his tiny, distorted reproductions. I had not come for this token appearance. I was there for the man whose dynamic form could escape the dull prisons of postcards and magnets. I eagerly stepped around the tourists blinded by their cameras to look at his face from the side. All the features heretofore flattened came suddenly into glorious relief. His furrowed brow jutted down over his smooth cheekbones, failing to restrain the intensity of his eyes which threatened to tear straight through the gallery walls. His veiny hands surged with blood, ready for the action to come. Even from behind, the contrapposto showed the division in his spirit, apprehension giving way to resolve, exemplifying Michelangelo's mastery of even that which, in the originally intended location of the work, would not necessarily have been seen.

    I love my David socks, adorned with that classically frozen image, but I would encourage anyone visiting to go have a peek at his butt. An individual response to art is more profound than what is prescribed.


All artwork and photography by Blue Smiley

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