"The greatest artist has no conception which a single block of marble does not potentially contain within its mass, but only a hand obedient to the mind can penetrate to this image."
Michelangelo Buonarroti

Michelangelo describes in the above quote what it is like to carve a likeness of a person out of a large block of marble. As we know from seeing his work, he did an excellent job with this task. Bernini did just as fine a job on his, but in a much different way as you will see in the following pages.


Michelangelo was born on March 6, 1475, in Caprese, Italy, a tiny village, owned by the nearby city-state of Florence. His father was the mayor. He attended school in Florence, but he was preoccupied by art. When he was 13, his father agreed to apprentice him to some well-known painters in Florence. Michelangelo was unsatisfied with these artists, because they would not teach him their artistic secrets. He went to work under another sculptor hired by Lorenzo de Medici.

When Michelangelo was 21, he went to Rome, where he was commissioned to carve a group of marble statues showing the Virgin Mary supporting the dead Christ on her knees. His sculpture was called Madonna Della Pieta, and it made Michelangelo famous. A few years later, in 1501, he accepted a commission for a statue of David. He took on the challenge of carving this beautiful work out of a "huge oblong chunk of pure white unflawed Carrara marble – some 18 feet high and weighing several tons - that had been badly block out and then abandoned by an earlier sculptor" (Coughlan 85). This piece had always fascinated Michelangelo, but neither he, nor anyone else, could think of what to carve from it, until now (Coughlan 85). Thus began a new era in art, the High Renaissance.

He began carving this statue for the city of Florence. It would become a symbol of this city, "a city willing to take on all comers in defense of its liberty" (Coughlan 91). The statue acquired this meaning by the way Michelangelo depicted this biblical character. Instead of presenting us with the winner of the battle, with the giant’s head at his feet and a sword in his hand like Donatello did many years before, he portrays David right before the battle begins. David is in the moment where his people are hesitating and Goliath is mocking him. He is placed in perfect contrapusto; in the same manner the Greeks represented their heroes (Heusinger 17). The right-hand side of the figure is composed, "while the left side, from the outstretched foot all the way up to the disheveled hair, is openly active and dynamic" (Heusinger 18). Frederick Hartt does an excellent job of describing the essence of the statue:

"Throughout the statue, but especially in the head, the conflict between line and form... ...is intensified and deepened. The features are more deeply undercut than in any of the earlier works, possibly because of the height from which the statue was originally intended to be seen. ...The enormous eyes ...seem at once liquid and fiery. The flat planes joining at determined angles underlie all the construction of the David, not only in the squared-off masses of the features but throughout the knotty, bony, sinewy, half- developed, and unprecedentedly beautiful torso and legs. For the first time Michelangelo is able to embody in the quality of a single human body all the passionate drama of a man’s inner nature. The sinews of the neck seem to tense and relax, the veins of the neck, hands and wrists to fill, the nostrils to pinch, the belly muscles to contract and the chest to lift with the intake of breath, the nipples to shrink and erect, the whole proud being to quiver like a war horse that smells the battle. But the nature of the battle there is no indication whatever; it is eternal and in every man" (Hartt 112).

Once the statue was completed, a committee of citizens and artists convened to decide where the statue should be placed. Some thought it should go near the steps or the church of San Piero Scheraggio, others said it should not be outside at all because of