Florence is a very special place to spend a day, especially for fans of Michelangelo Buonarroti. You’ll know the name. Painter of the Sistine Ceiling and the Last Judgement in the Vatican City, architect of St Peter’s Basilica, creator of many many beautiful sculptures and of course the father of David, the most famous naked man in the world (sorry Mr Beckham).
Michelangelo was a maverick burdened by his talent, a perfectionist and by all accounts a ‘difficult’ man. Perhaps this explains why he never married. It definitely explains his boxers nose, smashed after a friend punched his lights out after Michelangelo was less than complimentary about said friend’s artistic talents.
Judging by the number of people waiting outside the Galleria dell’Accademia, I am not alone in thinking that Michelangelo’s character flaws are more than outweighed by his talents. He had an unbelievable ability to transform blocks of marble into sculptures of such exquisiteness that they seem to live and breathe. You can see it in his statue of David. Standing 5.2 meters tall (that’s almost three times Mr Beckham’s height…think about that for a minute), David is breath taking. And Michelangelo was only 29 when he finished it. Looking at way the veins stand out on David’s hands and feet and the way his abdominal muscles ripple it’s clear that the months Michelangelo spent dissecting cadavers to understand how the human body worked on the inside paid off.
Notwithstanding the magnificence of David, Michelangelo’s Four Captives, or Slaves, are in a way even more powerful. Michelangelo didn’t finish these sculptures (because he received a more lucrative commission) and I’m glad he didn’t. The figures are captured forever struggling to free themselves from their marble blocks. Their struggle is dramatic and heroic just like the captive’s own struggle for freedom.
There are many more paintings and sculptures in Florence by Michelangelo as he continued to work until a few days before he died. He was 89 years old, a good age for a man who lived a physically demanding life breathing marble dust almost every day. He is buried in Santa Croce in Florence. He never finished the Pietà that he planned for his tomb and it was designed instead by his great friend Vasari who was with him when he died.
Michelangelo would turn in his grave if he could see what’s in the courtyard of the Gallery gift shop. He may have appreciated its boldness but not its lack of originality.