He is gorgeous with strong arms and big hands – the kind that would swallow mine as we walk, holding hands, along the Arno. His sweet, curly hair is almost boyish, but really, there is nothing boyish about him. Oh, no. He is all man. Intense. Taut. Poised. And oh, so Florentine. I am watching him from across the piazza. He stares intently at the Uffizi, but I think he is looking through the building and beyond to the river. The sun settles on his face, kissing him. Hmmm… I’d like to kiss that face. Honestly, being in Italy makes me a bit lascivious! His brow is furrowed. His bicep is tensed: slingshot in one hand, stone in the other. Oh, I could watch him all day.
David, Michelangelo’s testament to the strength and power of the Florentine Republic, used to stand in the Piazza della Signoria. Sadly, he was moved to the Galleria dell’Accademia where he stands inside looking lovely and unflustered. That’s not to say that the Accademia is a bad place for a 500 year-old marble sculpture. Not in the least! He really is too gorgeous to withstand centuries of pigeon poo. I mean, who needs that? However, this morning the replica of David that took his place on the Piazza looked especially charming, and I had a sense for Michelangelo’s original intentions.
Yesterday, at the Accademia, I met three girls from the University of New Mexico. We struck up a conversation about David while they took turns ducking the guards and taking illegal photos. It’s always a little dangerous to ask me a question about art. My sister used to call me “the bottomless pit of knowledge” which was a nice way of saying that I was a know-it-all. But the girls were brave and sweet and asked a bunch of questions about Michelangelo and his work in Florence.
Sitting on the bench in the Accademia these young women listened intently as I talked about Michelangelo’s political motives for creating such a stunning male specimen. Firenze (the city of Florence for those of you who have never been here) has always identified with the story of David and Goliath. One of the wealthiest cities in Europe during the Renaissance, Firenze was neither weak nor tiny. And where Donatello depicted David as a prepubescent boy in a hat and boots, Michelangelo shrugs off that youthful image. Having survived the death of Lorenzo the Magnificent, the bumblings of his son, and the religious coup of Savanarola, Firenze must have felt mighty, powerful, and gorgeous – and Michelangelo captures that spirit.
As I talked with the three girls, their minds were clearly changed. David wasn’t just a pretty piece of rock. The young sculptor, Michelangelo, took on an enormous piece of marble that had bested two other sculptors and created a statement declaring Firenze’s supremacy in the world as the chosen city of God as well as a hunky, sexy guy. After all, if you didn’t know it was David, you might think Michelangelo had sculpted Apollo, right? The slingshot and stone give it away, but his face and body look remarkably similar to those of Ancient Roman gods.
When Michelangelo moved David from his workshop to the piazza in 1504, it took the work of a huge crew as well as some imaginative engineering. But the effect was spectacular. David gazes toward the river and the hills beyond – a warning to pesky invaders like the French or the Pisans both of whom have tried to tromp the Florentine spirit. And Michelangelo became a rock star. The 30 year-old artist was in constant demand for the rest of his long life.
David – the real one and the fake – both carry on. Yesterday, as the three girls from New Mexico left me with David, I sighed, gazing at his rippled chest. And in the piazza this morning, I took photographs for an Australian couple here on their honeymoon. They posed with David looking ever-so-in-love; the woman didn’t even look at David. Clearly, she wasn’t awake yet. They wandered away leaving me to photograph and enjoy my white marble subject in relative peace.
Sigh. What a man he is!
Of course, I am talking about the talented Michelangelo. What did you think I meant?
© Angela K. Nickerson, 2008
Causes Angela Nickerson Supports
St. John's Shelter Program for Women and Children St. Jude Children's Research Hospital