Saturday, 1 October 2011

Italian poem No 4.

       The Watchman of the City

        The young man stands so seemingly relaxed,
        weight on one foot, 
        the other leg is forward, loose at the hip;
        his huge stonemason's hand
        is gently resting on his thigh.
        But look again!
        The head is turned to watch, the neck is taught,
        the eyes are fierce and brave.
        That nonchalance is only show-
        this man is dangerous!
        He knows just what they do with tyrants,
        here in Florence!
        All around this gay piazza
        there is murder, mayhem and revolt!
        So much of beauty has been made of death!
        This city that has always, at the heart,
        been a republic
        has a way to cut tall poppies
        and to lionise
        the ones like he
        who bring a giant's demise!

        ©     Tamsyn Taylor   

When Michelangelo, at the age of 25, was commissioned by the Overseers of Works for Florence Cathedral to sculpt a statue of David, he was presented with the challenge afforded by creating a work of enormous proportions out of a block of  second-grade marble that had already been worked on by two previous sculptors.  The figure was intended to be placed on the gable of Florence Cathedral, along with a number of other prophets, some of which had already been created, not in marble but in terracotta.   

The finished product was awe-inspiring, but threw the department of works into a panic.  It was obviously too large to be hoisted up to the gable.  Brunelleschi would have taken on the challenge, but he was dead and no-one else was prepared to attempt it.  A committee was formed (of course) to decide what to do with it.  They were split three ways.  The architect Giuliano da Sangallo, supported by Leonardo da Vinci, said the the marble was bound to deteriorate and that the safest place to display it was in the Loggia Lanza, a sort of permanent grandstand adjacent to the Palazzo Vecchio.   The second group wanted it placed near the entrance of the Palazzo Vecchio, which was the seat of the Signoria, or city council, replacing a rather horrifying bronze by Donatello of Judith hacking Holoferne's head off.   Botticelli, a devout man, said it should be placed in the vicinity of the cathedral, where its magnificence would do honour to God,  as originally intended, as well as to the City.   The City prevailed, and David was placed outside the Palazzo Vecchio, with his gaze turned threateningly towards Rome.  

Giuliano and Leonardo were right of course.  It should have been under cover.  In 1873 it was removed to the Accademia Gallery where it stands framed by a large niche and tall columns, as the focal point of a hall in which are also displayed the struggling giants intended for the tomb of Pope Julius II.   At its installation in the Accademia,  the statue was positioned with the same orientation that is found so often in drawings done by teenage boys i.e. the body is full-frontal, displaying the width of the shoulders and in this case the genitals, but the face is in profile.  Another male committee? The three -dimensional nature of the contraposto is minimised, and although one sees close-up photos of the face, full-on, it is very difficult to get a broad view of the statue from the  most appropriate angle.  One must rely on the many casts and copies.   In 1910 a replica was placed outside the Palazzo Vecchio, and another overlooks the city from the Piazzale Michelangelo,  the favourite location for photographing the vista of Florence. 

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