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Michelangelo’s "David" (3:38)

Florence, Italy
Contains mature topics

When you’re looking at Michelangelo’s David, you’re looking at Renaissance Man. This statue captures the excitement of the can-do Renaissance, with its realism, no-shame nudity, and David’s confidence — he can slay giants. It’s a celebration of man.

Complete Video Script

The Renaissance was an age of humanism. A time of confidence: when people worked hard, business was respectable, and excellence was rewarded. The Church no longer put a ceiling on learning and the great pre-Christian thinkers — like Plato and Aristotle — were back in vogue.

In about 1400, with the advent of Renaissance, man — now alert — begins to stand on his own, moving out of the shadow of the church. This David by the early Renaissance Florentine sculptor Donatello is one of the first freestanding male nudes sculpted in Europe in a thousand years. It’s art for art’s sake adorning not a church but a rich man’s courtyard. While the formal subject is still Biblical — David slaying the giant — Goliath’s severed head is at David’s feet — truth be told, it’s a classical nude…a celebration of the human body. A generation before this would have been shocking — but with the Renaissance, it’s art.

Florence was long an economic powerhouse. Rather than its church, it’s the city hall — once the palace of the Medici family — that towers over the main square. Michelangelo’s David originally stood here — this is a copy.

The original David is the centerpiece of the nearby Accademia Gallery, which feels like a temple to humanism. At its altar… one very impressive human.

The shepherd boy, David, sizes up the giant… thoughtful and self assured, he seems to be thinking, “I can take him.” The statue was an apt symbol, inspiring Florentines to tackle their Goliaths….

When you look at David, you’re looking at Renaissance man.

Artists now made their point using realism. They did this by merging art and science. For instance, Michelangelo actually dissected human corpses to better understand anatomy. This humanism was not anti-religion. Now, people realized that the best way to glorify God was not to bow down in church all day long, but to recognize their talents and to use them.

Artists like Michelangelo even exaggerated realism to make their point: notice David’s large and overdeveloped right hand. This is symbolic of the hand of God. It was God that powered David to slay the giant… and Florentines liked to think God’s favor enabled them to rise above rival neighboring city-states.

The nave-like hall leading to David is lined with Michelangelo’s unfinished prisoners — struggling to break out of the marble. Michelangelo believed these figures were divinely created within the rock. He was simply chiseling away the excess. Here we see the Renaissance love of the body as Michelangelo reveals these compelling figures. While these statues are called unfinished…perhaps Michelangelo was satisfied he’d set them free…and he moved on to other challenges.
Now that the old center of Florence is essentially traffic free, the city itself is more enjoyable than ever. Early in the morning the service trucks make their deliveries. Then the people happily take back the streets. The city is easy to navigate and its sights are close together. Everything in this episode is within a 15-minute walk. And without the noise and distraction of cars, the architecture is easier to appreciate.

The Renaissance lasted roughly two centuries. The High Renaissance or 1500s is well known for the work of Leonardo, Michelangelo and Raphael. But the first half of the Renaissance, the 1400s is often overlooked.

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