Creating David: The Story Of Michelangelo's Famous Statue of David

by Lindsay Shapka in , , ,


In 1501, Michelangelo (yes, the same guy who painted the famous Sistine Chapel located in the Vatican in Rome) accepted a commission to carve a marble sculpture of the biblical David to be placed high atop a buttress on the Florentine Cathedral

Interestingly, the commission was originally offered to Leonardo da Vinci who rejected it on the grounds that he despised marble sculpture as an inferior art, good only for artisans —(shockingly) he and Michelangelo were NOT best friends.

He scampered up and down the ladder as lightly as a cat, working the stout neck, heroic head and mass of curls from the top of the scaffold, carving the spine with great care to indicate that it carried and directed the whole body and was the mainspring of all movement. There could be no part of the David that was not palpable, and perfect.
— From "The Agony and the Ecstasy" by Irving Stone

It took four years for Michelangelo to carve the famous sculpture out of an 18-foot-tall marble block that had been damaged by another sculptor during the 1460s. Upon its completion in 1504, it was so admired by the people of Florence that they decided to place it in the square next to the Palazzo Vecchio, the seat of the Florentine government, instead of on top the Cathedral. 

The MAIN reason behind this relocation decision, however, was because of what the statue represented to the citizens of Florence.

If you are not familiar with the David and Goliath story, it is from the Bible and tells a tale of the power of "right over might". This sculpture represents the character David who by slinging a rock at the giant Goliath, kills him and, in doing so, saves his people.

Though David had been sculpted by many other artists (Donatello and Bernini both carved the subject) he is usually represented after the fight, with David being depicted as a triumphant hero.

For the first time, Michelangelo depicted his David pre-battle.

With a slingshot over his shoulder, a rock in his hand, tense muscles, and a concentrated gaze, this David seems to be psychologically preparing for the danger ahead. 

Why was this so meaningful to Florence at the time? 

Italy was not a peaceful, united country in this era. The main cities were ruled by powerful families that were always trying to come up with new ways to conquer each other.

At the time that the David was completed, the Florentines had recently fought a war (and won) against the combined forces of Milan, Siena, and Pisa — the little guy conquered a larger foe!

It took FOUR days to move the statue (VERY CAREFULLY!!!) on tree trunks down the narrow streets of Florence, from Michelangelo’s workshop to the Palazzo Vecchio. And there it sat until 1837 when it was replaced by a copy and moved into the Galleria dell’ Accademia to protect it from the elements.

It is said that when carving David, Michelangelo wanted to ensure that the sculpture would convey beauty and emotion from every angle.

As someone who has seen this famous work, in person from ALL angles (ahem…) I can tell you that this goal was not only achieved, it was surpassed. 

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Armless Propaganda: The Story of the Venus de Milo

by Lindsay Shapka in , , ,


The Venus de Milo is one of the most famous statues in the world, but like most famous art, one has to wonder what makes this piece more important than any of the other statues collecting dust in the galleries and storerooms of museums. 

Well, first off, you can’t argue with the fact that she is beautiful.

Artists and critics have long praised the work as being the epitome of graceful female beauty, so much so that her image used to be on the seal of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons.

On the other hand, though, there are many beautiful statues — and many that still have arms. 

Venus de Milo (Aphrodite of Melos), circa 150 BCE

Did she ever have arms?

No, Venus was not created without her upper limbs. She did originally have arms but was found with them already broken off. The buzz created by scholars over the mystery of the placement of her arms and what she may have once held has aided in her popularity. Only adding to the mystery is the fact that fragments found with the statue when it was dug up on the Island of Melos in 1820 have been lost.

The fragments, if reconstructed, would have been from the right arm of the statue and would have shown her holding an apple. Because the fragments were made of stone that was rougher than the rest of the statue, it was concluded that they were from an earlier restoration and so were set aside without being documented properly. They have now disappeared.

Scholars have recently speculated that the fragments were the originals and were carved differently because they would have been above the viewer's line of sight and so did not require a smooth surface (a common sculpting practice at the time of her creation). Without the fragments themselves, however, this can not be proven. 

Who sculpted her?

Adding to her beauty, and the mystery behind her arms, is the fact that is is still not known who actually created the statue and for what purpose. Though it has been speculated that the artist may have been Alexandros of Antioch and she once sat in a high niche in the wall of an ancient city, none of this has been confirmed.

Though all of these facts are interesting, they do not add up to the kind of information that would attract the attention of the rest of the world.

Why is this Venus SO popular?

The main reason that this marble Venus is so recognizable is because of good ‘ol fashioned propaganda.

In 1815, France was forced to return the Medici Venus, which had been stolen by Napoleon Bonaparte, back to the Italians. It was (and still is) regarded as one of the finest classical sculptures in existence and to a country considered to be the art hub of Europe at the time, this was a HUGE blow to the ego.

When the Venus de Milo arrived at the Louvre so soon after the loss of the Medici Venus, French Officials immediately began promoting it as a greater treasure than what they had lost and voila, we now revere and recognize her as one of the most stunning and mysterious statues of the Hellenistic period. 

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Art History: The Birth of the Impressionist Revolution In Paris

by Lindsay Shapka in , ,


In April of 1874, a group of 30 French artists (including Degas, Monet, and Renoir) agreed not to submit anything to the annual Salon exhibition and to create their own exhibit together in Paris. 

In France at the time, the French Academy had complete control over the display of art and artistic standards and until 1874 the Salon had been the only place to show art that would garner any respect or influence.

The French Academy had strict standards on what was considered ‘art’ and rejected works that weren’t done in classical or approved styles (portraits of famous historical figures, biblical stories etc...). The work of artists like Degas, Monet and Renoir had been rejected by the Salon numerous times because, to them, it looked unfinished and haphazard.

The exhibition outside of the Salon, called the Corporation of Artists Painters, Sculptors, Engravers, etc., was a declaration of independence from the academy and was the beginning of the end of the Salon’s hold over the French art world. 

At this first exhibition, a writer from a comic journal took the title of one of Monet’s paintings, Impression, Sunrise (1873) and dubbed the entire exhibition “impressionist”. The artists were thrilled with the label because it represented how they captured an instantaneous impression of a scene from nature in their art. 

At that moment, Impressionism was born, and Monet, Degas, and Renoir would go down in history as famous art revolutionaries.

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What's So Special About The Mona Lisa? The Real Story Behind da Vinci's Famous Painting

by Lindsay Shapka in , , ,


Mona Lisa, 1503-1506       Leonardo Da Vinci

When my sister recently came home from a trip to Paris she seemed impressed with everything that she had seen — except for the Mona Lisa.

One of the most recognized works of art in the world, reproductions of it usually come in poster sized prints while the original, hung behind thick, bullet proof glass and guarded by a velvet rope is miniature in comparison. 

She commented that in a museum filled with huge, wall-sized works of art, why should she care about something so small that she couldn’t even get close to?

This is a very good question and one that I am sure A LOT of visitors to the Louvre end up asking.

What's so special about the Mona Lisa?

The Renaissance era that Leonardo da Vinci lived in was a time of arts patronage, and artists usually only painted epic works at the request of a wealthy patron (basically someone who requested a certain type of painting and then paid for it).

Patrons valued these artists and usually gave generous commissions, but this meant that the artist had little freedom in what they were creating. Most works from this period were biblical or classical in nature and the patrons themselves were only painted if they were added into the scene. Unless you were a pope, a Medici (an influential family in Florence) or someone equally wealthy, there was little chance of there being a painting done only of you. 

And then there is Mona.

She is painted without a stitch of jewelry (unheard of for women of the era) — not even a wedding ring — and her look is contemporary, not drawing from any classical or biblical references. Women, at the time, were painted to look demure and would never be directly gazing at the viewer. Mona not only stares you down but does so with a smile on her face. It is almost like she is challenging those who dare to look at her. 

For someone like da Vinci, the painter of such revered biblical works like The Last Supper, this is a huge digression from the norm.

To make it all even more mysterious, the real identity of the woman is not known. There is speculation that she was Lisa Gherardini del Giocondo, the wife of a wealthy Florentine merchant, but there is no direct evidence of this. Many have guessed that the women and the artist were involved in some sort of love affair, but for all we know, the woman in this painting was his housemaid.

Something about her or the painting must have moved him, however, because once it was finished he kept it with him for the rest of his life. 

So, why should you care?

It is not so much the painting itself, but the history behind it that makes the Mona Lisa so special. In a time when the majority of art created was for someone else to appreciate, Leonardo da Vinci created something that was only for himself.

Though tame to us, the style that he painted Mona Lisa in was scandalous for his time and if there is anything to love more than a mystery, it’s a scandal. 

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What's So Special About The Mona Lisa?