When visiting Michelangelo’s David in Florence, I greatly enjoyed experiencing it, both from afar and then examining it up close too.
David was originally meant to be positioned on the roofline of the Florence Cathedral, meaning we would view it from below and down the street.
However, upon it’s completion, Florentine authorities realized the impossibility of safely raising the (almost 6-ton!) marble statue to the desired position on a flying buttress of the cathedral roof.
After some debate, it was carefully placed outside the city’s town hall (the Piazza della Signoria, now the Palazzo Vecchio); and in the mid 1800s, it was removed from the piazza and a replica installed in its place in order to protect the original from damage.
David’s current position in the Galleria dell’Accademia somewhat replicates the originally intended perspective, at least in terms of how we visitors approach him from the opposite end of a long hallway as seen in this video.
Seeing him from this far away makes all his body parts seem proportionate. However, when we are standing within spitting distance, it’s all out of whack!
Learning all this and more from our excellent tour guide (check out Dark Rome tours for fabulous options!) had me reflecting on ALL artworks.
The David (and many other fine works of art, including The Annunciation by Leonardo da Vinci and Andrea del Verrochio) could easily be considered imperfect if we experienced them outside of their intended context.
For this reason I’ve become acutely interested in understanding the background from which artworks arose, including the historical context, who it was commissioned by and for what purpose, the artist’s life (experiences, mentors, training, travel, beliefs), the materials used, and where / when / how it was meant to be viewed and/or used.
For example, from a contemporary perspective, what if the artist used fluorescent paints? The images would be bland or even invisible during the day, but glow brightly in darkness! Seen only during the day or viewing uncharged paints, you’d not only not get the full effect, but likely think it was an outright failure!
How does this impact my own work?
It’s made the narrative even more important to effectively capture when creating my murals.
And it’s inspired me to start a series, Dissecting David, where I’m playing with composition.
The first pieces in this series you see here are small studies of essentially the same focal point (David’s right nipple), with a relatively slight shift in viewpoint (from the nipple being positioned in the bottom right, to the middle, or to the left (imagine a 3×3 grid is laid over the paintings).
I was surprised how much this small change in perspective to the same subject gives a very different composition, and thus energy / mood, to each painting!
And I’m super curious: which one do you prefer?
Let us know in a blog comment below!
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