The story of Michelangelo’s David

From Giorgio Vasari’s Lives of the Artists, which I have been slowly reading as I work my way through Florence:

Michelangelo is by far Vasari’s favorite artist, mostly because he excelled at all three of the artistic disciplines – painting, sculpture, and architecture.

“The block of marble was nine braccia high, and from it, unluckily, one Maestro Simone had begun a giant, and he had managed to work so ill, that he had hacked a hole between the legs, and it was altogether misshapen and reduced to ruin, insomuch that the Wardens… had placed it on one side without troubling to have it finished; and so it had remained for many years. Michelagnolo measured it all anew, considering whether he might be able to carve a reasonable figure from that block… all misshapen by Maestro Simone; and he resolved to ask for it… and it was granted to him as a thing of no value, they thinking that whatever he might make of it would be better than the state in which it was time… Whereupon Michelagnolo made a model of wax, fashioning in it… a young David with a sling in his hand… And he began it in the Office of Works of S. Maria del Fiore, in which he made an enclosure of planks and masonry, thus surrounding the marble; and, working at it continuously without anyone seeing it, he carried it to perfect completion…. And truly it was a miracle on the part of Michelagnolo to restore to life a thing that was dead.”

And another funny anecdote about David:

“It happened at this time that Piero Soderini, having seen it in place… said to Michelagnolo… that it seemed to him that the nose of the figure was too thick. Michalagnolo noticed that the man was beneath the Giant, and that his point of view prevented him from seeing it properly; but in order to satisfy him he climbed upon the staging… and quickly took up a chisel in his left hand, along with a little of the marble-dust that lay upon the planks of the staging, and then, beginning to strike lightly with the chisel, let the dust in his hand fall little by little, nor changed the nose a whit from what it was before. Then, looking down at the man, who stood watching him, he said “Look at it now.” “I like it better,” said the man, “you have given it life!” And so Michelagnolo came down, laughing to himself at having satisfied tat lord, for he had pity for those who, in order to appear full of knowledge, talk about things of which they know nothing.”


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