*** This is a rough transcript of today’s show ***
It is the 13th of September 2022. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org; I’m Dan van Voorhis.
A few weeks ago, on the Weekend edition, we told the story of the Medici family in Florence- I suggested that they were perhaps the most influential, non-Royal family in history.
(There were, of course, a few Medicis that became royals- most notably Catherine De Medici- who I have been told has a miniseries that started yesterday)
One of the more interesting side stories to the Medici dynasty can be seen in the tale of two statues- both of the shepherd turned King David and both telling vastly different stories.
Donatello’s David in bronze is curious- it was commissioned by the Medicis and represented the kind of audacious iconoclasm the family was known for. David is dressed in modern garb, appears both male and female, and triumphantly steps on his felled foe's head. It represented the Medicis as the “David” who opposed European powers as the underdogs that took and ruled Florence.
Well- their rule was soon to end, at least temporarily (you can listen to the show if you missed it). A young Michelangelo fled Florence (his adopted hometown) and made a name for himself in Rome. After the experiment with Savonarola and a “godly republic” ended, Michelangelo and others returned to a new Florence.
The year was 1501, and the city council hired Michelangelo to create a statue out of a gigantic block of marble that others had failed to carve. On the 13th of September, Michelangelo began working on his magnum opus and perhaps the most famous statue of all time- his version of David.
But rather than this David representing the upstart Medicis against the world, this David would represent the people of Florence against a new “Goliath”- the Medicis. They were now trying to take back the city.
This David was going to be placed on top of another modern marvel- the cathedral designed by Brunelleschi. But at 17 feet, it would prove too difficult to lift atop the dome and was placed in the middle of the city square.
Let’s talk about this statue and what makes it so remarkable. The sheer size of David took Michelangelo 3 years of nonstop work to finish the figure- the strength and dexterity- not to mention artistic skill was a feat in itself.
The anatomy of David was perfected by Michelangelo, the first sculptor of note that we know of using cadavers- dead bodies- to inspect muscles, bones, and general anatomy.
And yes, all of his anatomy is on display (although at various times in the history of Florence, a leaf would cover David’s most sensitive region). So, it’s a fair question: why is he naked? The Answer? Because that’s what the Greeks did. This was the Renaissance- the “rebirth” of classical Greece and Rome. Also, a naked statue is much harder than a clothed statue. He is also not circumcised- which is curious because, as a Jewish boy, he would have been. The Florentine government had banned circumcision; thus, their famous statue must follow the rules.
What else is curious is that unless it was called “David,” you might not know it was the shepherd King. There is no head of Goliath- the easiest to tell in other statues and paintings. Instead, the rock and sling are hidden behind David in his cupped hand. This is “pre-fight,” The boy's nerves are seen in his pulsing veins and anxious look. He is sculpted with his head turned as if looking at the Giant.
It would be Michelangelo’s greatest statue and propel his reputation as amongst the greatest artist of the Renaissance- he would go on to work in bronze, architecture, and painting- he would famously paint the ceiling of the Sistine chapel.
But his David broke the mold for sculpture in the modern age- the project to create the 17-foot tall behemoth that took three years to sculpt began on the 13th of September in 1501.
The Last Word for today comes from the lectionary for today from 2 Peter.
8 But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. 9 The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 13th of September 2022, brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.
The show is produced by a man whose favorite Davids include the king of Israel, Carradine of “Kung Fu” fame, and Cassidy from the Partridge Family. He is Christopher Gillespie.
The show is written and read by a man whose favorite David is easy- it’s David Long of Santa Maria, California, and my brother-in-law, I’m Dan van Voorhis.
You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.