Friday, April 13, 2007

March 2007 - Florence, Italy - Birthplace of the Renaissance

Before we get to Florence's amazing weather (gives Rome a run for its money), the lack of tourists (not exactly), the elegant Florentine "dialect", or the gelato (definitely the best!), we'd thought we should give you some historical background of this amazing city.


The Renaissance (Rinascimento in Italian, rebirth in English) that swept through Europe in the 15th, 16th and 17th Centuries started right here, only steps from where we are standing in the above picture, in Piazza di San Giovanni. While the Duomo (Cathedral), its cupola (dome) and its campanile (bell tower), standing behind us are all very important structures, Florence's Baptistry, closest to us on the left, is where it all began.

Though its architecture has classical elements, the octogonal Baptistry (above and below), is not an ancient Roman building as many Florentines, eager to link themselves to the classical past, once believed. Rather, the present-day structure was reworked in the Romanesque style between 1059 and 1128 (covered in geometrically- and zebra-like-patterned white Carrara marble with dark green Prato marble inlay) over an existing early Christian octogonal baptistry from the late 4th or early 5th Century AD, which in turn was built on the sight of the ruins of a Roman guard tower from the 1st Century AD. Nevertheless, it is still believed to be Florence's oldest building, which served as prototype for many architects throughout Italy.

In 1329 (late middle ages), the Arte di Calimala (Guild of Cloth Importers), which was responsible for supervising the building, sought to commission a pair of bronze doors for Baptistry. Bronze casting, however, was a very specialized craft and no one in Florence was capable of the task. Therefore, on the recommendation of Giotto da Bondone (chief architect of the Cathedral and its bell tower), the Guild selected Andrea Pisano from Pontedera near Pisa, renowned for its bronze tradition.

Pisano completed these doors in 1330, just 1 year they were commissioned. The doors (consisting of 28 bas-relief rectangular panels) were originally installed on the east side, facing the Duomo, but in 1452 were transferred to their present location on the south side, the most frequented entrance. As they were always open, they were meant to be read separately, starting at the at the upper left corner like the page of a book. At the four corners of each scene are lion heads (the Marzocco, symbol of the Florentines) with bands of alternating rosettes and studs between. Each door contains 10 scenes in the upper section from the life of St John the Baptist, the patron saint of Florence to whom the Baptistry is dedicated. On the panels of the lower section the theological virtues are depicted.

Here is one of the panels from Pisano's doors. This scene represents the baptism of Christ by St. John the Baptist. The doors, a fine late Gothic work much admired by all who beheld them, became a symbol of the glory of Florence and were the model for the next set.

But the Black Death (aka the Bubonic Plague), which swept much of Europe and cut Florence's population in half in 1348, would delay for nearly three quarters of a century the commissioning of the doors for the Baptistry's other portals. In the waning days of the 14th Century, when Florence was recovering from the Plague, bank failures, and political rivalries, and the masters of art were young and full of promise, the city stood at a crossroads, not only in Italy but in the history of the western world.
In 1401, the city announced a competition to design another set of doors for the Baptistry. Seven sculptors competed, including Lorenzo Ghiberti, Filippo Brunelleschi, Donatello and Jacopo della Quercia, each sculpting a panel depicting the episode of "The Sacrifice of Isaac" from the Old Testament. The two favorite competition panels were produced by Ghiberti and Brunelleschi. Ghiberti, a young (21), unknown and inexperienced painter, produced an elegant panel cast almost entirely in a single sheet of bronze (above).
Brunelleschi, a local goldsmith, designed a more dramatic and expressive panel that also drew considerable attention (above). The contest was so close that it divided the city - perhaps there was even a tie - but Ghiberti, probably because of his lower asking price, won the competition and was awarded the commission. Brunelleschi was so disillusioned that he took off for Rome to study architecture and never sculpted again. He recast himself in a new image that would lead him to rediscover the laws of perspective and reinvent the role of the architect.
While a host of social, economic, cultural and political conditions gave rise to the Renaissance, most historians agree that the ideas that characterized it had their origin in late 13th century Florence, in particular with the writings of Dante Alighieri (1265–1321) and Francesco Petrarch (1304–1374), as well as the painting of Giotto (1267-1337). But if any single event is to be credited with ushering us out of the Middle Ages and launching us into the Renaissance, most historians believe that it was the Baptistry door competition of 1401.
The Renaissance was so called because it was a "rebirth" of certain classical ideas that had long been lost to Europe. It encompassed the revival of learning based on classical sources, the rise of courtly and papal patronage of the arts, the development of perspective in painting and sculpting, and significant advancements in science.

It took Ghiberti 21 years (1403-1424) to complete these gilded bronze doors, which consist of twenty-eight panels, with twenty panels depicting a biblical scene from the life of Christ as told in the New Testament. The eight lower panels show the four evangelists (Mark, Mateo, John and Luke) and the Church Fathers Saint Ambrose, Saint Jerome, Saint Gregory and Saint Augustine. The panels are surrounded by a framework of foliage in the doorcase and gilded busts of prophets and sibyls at the intersections of the panels. Originally installed on the east side, in place of Pisano's doors, they were later moved to the north side. They are described by Antonio Paolucci as "the most important event in the history of Florentine art in the first quarter of the 15th century".
Here is one panel from Ghiberti's North Doors, depicting the Adoration of the Magi. Ghiberti is indebted to Andrea Pisano's interpretation of the Gothic in the south doors of the Baptistry in his construction of a narrow spatial ledge in front of the relief to suggest some spatial setting and in the decorative and lyrical complexity of the drapery and the energetic swaying of the bodies.

Ghiberti was now widely recognized as a celebrity and the top artist in this field. He was showered with commissions, even from the pope. In 1425, he got a second commission, this time for the East Doors of the Baptistery, on which he and his workshop (including Michelozzo and Benozzo Gozzoli) toiled for 27 years (1425-1452), excelling themselves.

Here's Casandra in front of the copies of Ghiberti's gold-covered bronze doors currently on the Baptistry's east portal facing the Duomo. They have ten panels depicting scenes from the Old Testament. The panels are large rectangles and are no longer embedded in the traditional gothic quatrefoil, as in the previous doors. Ghiberti employed the recently discovered principles of perspective to give depth to his compositions. Each panel depicts more than one episode.
When Michelangelo first laid eyes on them years later, he proclaimed them to be fit for the "Gates of Paradise", and to this day, they are still invariably referred to by this name. A century later, Giorgio Vasari, whose brilliant frescoes can be found all over Florence and throughout Italy, described them as "undeniably perfect in every way and must rank as the finest masterpiece ever created." Ghiberti himself said they were "the most singular work that I have ever made."
The panels are included in a richly decorated gilt framework of foliage and fruit, many statuettes of prophets and 24 busts. The two central busts are portraits of the artist and of his father, Bartolomeo Ghiberti. The "Gates of Paradise" now on the Baptistery are actually gilded bronze reproductions, placed there in 1990 after it was determined that the originals were deteriorating, and could only be saved if they were moved indoors. The originals are housed nearby in the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo, preserved in containers filled with nitrogen.
Here is one of the panels, depicting "The story of Joseph", the narrative scheme of Joseph cast by his brethren into the well, Joseph sold to the merchants, The merchants delivering Joseph to the pharao, Joseph interpreting the pharao's dream, The pharao paying him honour, Jacob sends his sons to Egypt and Joseph recognizes his brothers and returns home. According to Vasari's "Lives", this panel was the most difficult and also the most beautiful. The figures are distributed in very low relief in a perspectival space (a technique invented by Donatello and called rilievo schiacciato, which literally means "flattened relief"). Ghiberti uses different sculptural techniques, from incised lines to almost free-standing figure sculpture, within the panels, further accentuating the sense of space.
Before the pivotal Baptistry door compeition that jump-started the Renaissance, prosperous Florence, towards the end of the 13th Century, wanted to surpass in grandeur its Tuscan rivals, Pisa and Siena, with a more magnificent church, grander in size and more richly adorned. As a result, this Cathedral - Santa Maria del Fiore - was the largest in Europe when completed, with room for 30,000 people. Today, it is the world's 5th largest cathedral, exceeded in size only by St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City, St. Paul's Cathedral in London, the Seville Cathedral, and the Milan Cathedral. Here we are on the south side of it.

The church was designed by Arnolfo di Cambio in 1296 to be the second largest Roman Catholic church in the world (after Notre Dame in Paris), although the design was altered several times and later reduced in size. Arnolfo di Cambio was also the famous architect of Florence's church of Santa Croce and the Palazzo Vecchio. The building of this vast project was to last 150 years, the collective efforts of several generations. In 1331, the Arte della Lana (Guild of Wool Merchants) took over exclusive patronage for the construction of the cathedral, and in 1334 appointed Giotto to oversee the work. Assisted by Pisano, Giotto continued along di Cambio's design, but his major accomplishment was the building of the 270 foot tall campanile (below), considered by many to be the most beautiful in Italy.

When Giotto died in 1337, Pisano continued the building, until work was again halted in 1348 due to the Black Plague. Construction eventually continued under various architects and, by 1418, after over a century of planning and work, the enormous structure was complete, except for the gaping hole over which the great cupola would have to be built. The 42 meter (137 ft) wide, 170 foot high hole was temporarily covered by a wooden dome designed by di Cambio. The permanent dome that would eventually replace it would be the widest, heaviest, and highest dome ever constructed, and while no one doubted that it could be made, the question was who could rise to the challenge.

In 1419, the Arte della Lana held a competition to design a new dome. Fifteen years after the Baptistry door competition, Ghiberti and Brunelleschi, having returned from Rome, faced off again in the contest to design the dome. To show what his dome was to look like, Brunelleschi constructed a wooden and brick model with the help of Donatello and Nanni di Banco. Brunelleschi won the competition by a nose. His ingenious designs gained him the most important commission in the history of Florence, crowning the cathedral with a dome of such magnificence and beauty that it has become one of the most enduring symbols of the Renaissance.
The building of a self-supporting stone cupola over the chancel posed many technical problems. Though Brunelleschi drew his inspiration from the great dome of the Pantheon in Rome, the use of concrete had long since been forgotten. He would have to build the dome out of bricks. Brunelleschi's dome model served as a guide for the craftsmen, but was intentionally left incomplete, as to ensure his control over the construction. His solutions were ingenious and unprecedented: the distinctive octagonal design of the double-walled, dome-within-a dome, resting on a drum and not on the roof itself, allowed for the entire dome to be built without the need for scaffolding from the ground. But, because the dome rested on a drum with no external butresses supporting it, there could be no lateral thrusts at the base of the dome. To ensure this, Brunelleschi used horizontal tension chains of wood and iron set at the base of the dome.
This enormous construction weighs over 40,000 tons, contains over 4 million bricks, and rises 330 feet from the ground. The lantern alone, which caps the dome, is a marble buidling nearly as tall as the Baptistry. Brunelleschi had to invent special hoisting machines and lewissons to lift and work all of the large stones and other material required for the construction, weighing nearly 80 million pounds in all. These specially designed machines and brilliant masonry techniques were Brunelleschi's spectacular contribution to architecture. The ability to transcribe a circle on a cone face within the innermost double-shelled wall makes the self-sustaining "horizontal" arch construction possible, since geometrically, a circular plan is needed for such an erection.

Ghiberti, appointed coadjutator, mocked Brunelleschi's plans and called them unfeasible. Brunelleschi, deeply offended, then pretended a sickness and left for Rome, leaving the project in the hands of Ghiberti. But Ghiberti soon had to admit that the whole project was beyond him. In 1423, Brunelleschi was back in charge and took over sole responsibility. Despite all of his plans, it's now clear from documentary evidence that he was making it up as he went along, exuding confidence to workers and city officials while privately improvising. The dome was completed in 16 short years; work started in 1420 and was completed in 1436, capping 150 years of the church's construction.

This statue of Brunelleschi is situated on the south side of the Duomo. Notice his upward gaze. He appears to be studying the space where his dome would rise, or perhaps admiring his completed masterpiece. In some ways, his architectural wonder has never been surpassed. At 143 feet in diameter, it remains the largest masonry dome ever constructed — the Pantheon's dome is 142 feet in diameter, the dome of St. Peter's Basilica in Rome is 138 feet in diameter, St. Paul's Cathedral in London is 112 feet in diameter, and the U.S. Capitol building dome is 95 feet in diameter. When it was completed, people gave it the ultimate compliment, saying, "not even the ancients could have done it." Michelangelo, setting out to construct the dome of St. Peter's years later drew inspiration from Brunelleschi's dome, proclaiming, "I'll make its sister . . . bigger, but not more beautiful." Even today, it's probably the most striking dome that you will ever lay your eyes on.

There's also a story behind the amazingly ornate and colorful Neo-Gothic facade of the Duomo, but I promise this one's not as long.
The original façade, designed by Arnolfo di Cambio (who designed the church) and usually attributed to Giotto, was actually begun twenty years after Giotto's death. It was the collective work of several artists and only its lower portion was ever completed. But what was completed was dismantled in 1587-1588 by the Medici court, as it appeared totally outmoded in Renaissance times. The competition for a new façade turned into a huge corruption scandal and the façade was left bare until the 19th century. In 1864, a competition was held to design a new façade and was won by Emilio De Fabris in 1871. Work was begun in 1876 and completed in 1887. This façade in white, green and red marble forms a harmonious entity with the cathedral, Giotto's belltower and the Baptistery. Many consider it to be excessively decorated (can you find Casandra standing in front of it in the above picture?), but it's still amazing to look at.

Notice all of the statues sitting in niches carved into the facade. None in particular are noteworthy - some are copies of early Renaissance masterpieces that were placed on the orginal partial facade, including works by Donatello.
This statue of St. John the Evangelist, which Donatello worked on from 1410 to 1411, is the most significant of the Duomo's original facade's statues. Together with the other Evangelists by Nanni di Banco, Niccolo Lamberti and Bernardo Ciuffagni, it was placed on the original partial facade in the tabernacle at the side of the central door. Particularly remarkable are the saint's acute and penetrating expression, and the realistic treatment of his open hand on the book. In 1587, Donatello's St. John and the other Evangelists were removed from the facade and placed inside the Cathedral. Today, they are in the Duomo Museum across from the Duomo.
After marveling at the facade for a while, we ventured inside the cathedral, only to find a baron, gothic church with very little color or decoration. Nearly all of the great art that it once housed is now in the Duomo Museum. As it's one of the largest churches in the world, with third longest nave in Christiandom, its sheer size is pretty impressive.
By far the most interesting feature of the Duomo's interior is the fresco on the inside of the dome, painted by Giorgio Vasari and Federico Zuccari more than a century after the dome was completed. It depicts the Last Judgment and is one of the largest paintings from the Renaissance.

One beautiful Saturday morning, we decided to climb Giotto's Campanile (above) to get a bird's eye view of Florence.
Here's a shot of us with Brunelleschi's dome in the background, which we also could have climbed (and still might) but the Campanile offers the same views (plus the dome!) and has 50 fewer steps to the top.
The panoramic views of the city and surrounding hills and mountains were incredible and certainly worth the climb.
In this shot you can see the Gothic Franciscan Church of Santa Croce, with its white marble facade on the left, and the medieval Bargello, with its crenalated bell tower and rooftop in the foreground.

The Bargello, behind Casandra, is a former military barracks, police station, and prison. Today, its one of Florence's most important art museums and the oldest public building in Florence. The original two-story structure was built alongside the Volognana Tower in 1256. The third story, which can be identified by the smaller blocks used to construct it and the distinctive crenellated roof, was added after the Florence fire of 1323. This austere building served as model for the construction of the Palazzo Vecchio, the Medici's city residence and government offices in Piazza della Signoria, Florence's main square.
The building was designed around an open courtyard with an external staircase leading to the second floor. An open well can be seen in the center of the courtyard. It was originally built in 1256 to house the office of the military captain in charge of keeping peace and justice during riots and uproars in the Middle Ages. In Florence, he was usually hired from a foreign city to prevent any appearance of favoritism on the part of the captain. The position could be compared with that of a current Chief of Police. In 1261, the building was used to house the Podestà, the highest magistrate of the Florence City Council, and was called the Palazzo del Podestà. In 1574, the Medici dispensed with the function of the Podestà and housed the "bargello", the police chief of Florence, in this building, hence its current name (during the Italian Middle Ages it was the name given to a military captain but the word bargello also means castle or fortified tower). The Bargello was also employed as a prison and executions took place in its courtyard until they were abolished by Grand Duke Peter Leopold in 1786. It remained the headquarters of the Florentine police until 1865. Since then, it has become a national museum (Museo Nazionale del Bargello), displaying the largest Italian collection of gothic and Renaissance sculptures (14–17th century).

Among the many treasures in the Bargello is this early Renaissance marble sculpture of David by Donatello, completed in 1409. It may seem odd to find a sculpture as illustrating the origins of the emerging Renaissance style in painting, but actually in the Renaissance, the sculptors were a half step ahead of the painters in delineating the new language of forms. The most influential among them was Donatello. This David is one of his earliest works in marble and was made more than a decade before the painters displayed a similar respect for the human figure. This statue should have been placed on the lower frieze of one of the buttresses of the Tribuna of the original (partially completed) facade of the Duomo, but it proved too small for its intended site and in 1416 was moved to the Palazzo Vecchio. It was transferred to the Bargello in the last century.

This slightly smaller than life-sized bronze David, which Donatello completed in 1430, is one of the most important sculptures in the world. Most likely commissioned by Piero de' Medici, it stood on a column in the courtyard of the Medici palace in Florence. The sleekly sensual depiction of the adolescent David, who stands in a languid pose, his left foot carelessly resting on Goliath's severed head, is remarkable for its naturalism. Donatello departed, however, from familiar images of David by presenting him nude, in the manner of a classical slim, pre-pubescent boy. In fact, it was the first nude sculptured since ancient Roman times. The unusual representation of the David, departing as it does from the biblical text and from classical forms of heroism, suggest that Donatello intended to convey more than just the narrative of David and Goliath. Recent interpretations of the statue suggest the figure's purported androgyny, sexuality and homoerotic charge.
This bronze statue of David, completed in 1475 by Verrocchio (Leonardo da Vinci's teacher), was also commissioned by the Medici family, who sold it in 1476 to the Signoria, the ruling body of Florence, and placed in the Palazzo Vecchio. In contrast to Donatello's David, there is no doubt that Verrocchio's proud hero was capable of slaying the giant (though today the fringed tank top and skirt might suggest otherwise). Its explicitness and angularity contrast with the ambiguity and sensuousness of Donatello's nude and vulnerable David. Verrocchio's clothed David carries a small sword in one hand and, with his other confidently poised on his hip, looks triumphantly out at the viewer. The figure, to be viewed in the round, lacks the anatomical exaggerations and the psychological implications or complexity of Donatello's.
This statue of Bacchus, completed by Michelangelo in 1497 during his first visit to Rome at the age of 21, was commissioned by the banker Jacopo Galli, who wanted it fashioned after the models of the ancients. The body of this drunken and staggering god gives an impression of both youthfulness and of femininity. Vasari said this strange blending of effects is the characteristic of the Greek god Dionysus. But in Michelangelo's experience, sensuality of such a divine nature has a drawback for man - in his left hand the god holds with indifference a lionsksin, the symbol of death, and a bunch of grapes, the symbol of life, from which a Faun is feeding. Thus, we are brought to realize, in a sudden way, what significance this miracle of pure sensuality has for man - living only for a short while he will find himself in the position of the faun, caught in the grasp of death (the lionskin). The statue was transferred to Florence in 1572 and is now the centerpiece of the "Michelangelo" room on the ground floor of the Bargello.
Some of the most imporant works from the early Renaissance are housed in the Uffizi, the 3-story U-shaped building situated immediately south of the Palazzo Vecchio, just off Piazza della Signoria. The Uffizi Gallery is one of the oldest and most famous museums of paintings and sculpture in the world, occupying the top floor of the large building erected by Giorgio Vasari between 1560 and 1580 to house the administrative offices of the Tuscan State. This north-facing view towards the Palazzo Vecchio (above) is from the "courtyard" between the 2 main halls of the Uffizi.

The Gallery was created by Grand-duke Francesco I and subsequently enriched by various members of the Medici family, who were great collectors of paintings, sculpture and works of art. The collection was rearranged and enlarged by the Lorraine Grand-dukes, who succeeded the Medici, and finally by the Italian State. Its collection of Primitive and Renaissance paintings comprises several universally acclaimed masterpieces of all time, including works by Giotto, Simone Martini, Piero della Francesca, Fra Angelico, Filippo Lippi, Botticelli, Mantegna, Correggio, Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Michelangelo and Caravaggio. German, Dutch and Flemish masters are also well represented with important works by Dürer, Rembrandt and Rubens. The Uffizi buildings also house other important collections, including the Contini Bonacossi Collection and the Collection of Prints and Drawings (Gabinetto Disegni e Stampe degli Uffizi). As you can see in the above picture, it's very popular with the tourists.
In 1565, Vasari built a half-mile "secret" passageway for the Medicis' that connects the Palazzo Vecchio to their Palazzo Pitti so, in their commute from home to work, they didn't have to walk across the Ponte Vecchio (filled with dirty butcher shops) and could make a quick gettaway from their enemies who'd congretate around the Palazzo Vecchio and Piazza della Signoria. You can see part of the passageway above Casandra's head in the above picture. The Vasari Corridor runs from the top floor of the Palazzo Veccchio, over the East and South halls of the Uffizi, over the Ponte Vecchio, and over several public and private buildings south of the Arno all the way to the Palazzo Pitti. It is "wallpapered" with an important collection of 17th-century paintings and the famous collection of Vasari's self-portraits. Though it is technically open to the public, it is nearly impossible to get in. Luckily, our landlord (who owns the oldest bakery in town and apparently is very connected) is arranging a private tour for us. Score!!!

Here's a shot of us in the beautiful south hallway of the Uffizi Gallery, which connects the two main east and west hallways. It is lined with sculptures and its ceilings are covered with beautiful frescoes.
This hallway also provides some of the best views of the Arno and the Ponte Vecchio. In this picture you can see the portion of the Vasari Corridor that runs from the Uffizi and over the Ponte Vecchio.
Sandro Botticelli was among Lorenzo "the Magnificent" Medici's inner circle of Florentine elite, which included the finest artists of the time. He frequently joined them for evening wine and discussions of new ideas. In 1482, he painted this landmark painting, entitled Primavera. It's springtime in a citrus grove. The winds of spring blow in. We see Mercury and the three Graces dancing a delicate Maypole dance. The Graces may be symbolic of the three forms of love - love of beauty, love of people, and sexual love. In the center stands Venus, the Roman Goddess of Love. Above her flies a blind folded cupid, happily shooting his arrows of love without worrying who they hit. Here is the Rennaissance in its first bloom, its springtime of innocence. The Madonna is out and the Venus is in. Adam and Eve hiding their nakedness are out, glorious flesh is in. This is a return to the pre-Christian pagan world of classical Greece. While there's an innocence and playfulness to all the characters, there's also a look of thoughtfulness and melancholy in their faces, as if they know the innocence of spring will soon pass.
According to Mythology, Venus was born from the foam of a wave. In this painting, which Botticelli completed in 1485, the fragile newborn beauty is kept afloat on a clamshell, while the winds come to blow her to shore, while here handmaiden waits to cover her. Her pose is the same S-curve of classical statues as well as Primavera. Botticelli's pastel colors make the world itself seem fresh and newly born. This is the purest expression of Renaissance beauty. Venus' nake body is not sexual but innocent. This also shows Botticelli's love of the natural world - the wind blowing, the transluscent skin, the women's hair, the wind's chest muscles, the tumbling flowers.
In this important painting of the Adoration of the Magi, which Leonardo da Vinci completed in 1482, mankind is represented by the Three Kings, who are paying homage to the baby Jesus and are amazed and even afraid of him. The fall of the pagan world began at the same time as his appearance. Leonardo appears to have depicted this moment so dramatic in human history that he began a new era of painting capturing not just outer features but also inner personality. It remained unfinished because Leonardo left Florence and moved to Milan, though we do not know why he did so. Chemical reactions and soiling make it difficult to read this fascinating panel in detail. With this painting Leonardo declares his independence from his teacher Verrocchio, emerging with a fresh, personal style. Although unfinished, this painting is far more innovative than his previous works.
The Doni tondo is Michelangelo's sole unanimously accepted panel painting, which he completed in 1506. His only other documented easel painting, The Leda and the Swan, seems to have been destroyed and must be reconstructed from autograph drawings and copies. The tondo was probably produced for the same Doni for whom Raphael painted the pair of portraits, now in the Palazzo Pitti. The Holy Family is in the foreground. The Virgin, a muscular young woman, is turning round with a complicated movement to take the Christ Child Joseph is handing to her over her shoulder. The meaning of this scene is both theologically and philosophically obscure, as is the significance of the naked young men in the background. Some scholars believe that Michelangelo may have had a hand in designing the ornate gilt-wood frame.

Towards the north end of the historic center of Florence, in a gallery designed specifically to house and protect it, stands perhaps the most well-known symbol and product of the Renaissance: Michelangelo's David. In 1501, Michelangelo, at the age of 26, was commissioned to carve this 14-foot tall David for the Duomo. He was given a block of marble that had been rejected as too tall, too shallow and flawed by many other artists, including Agostino di Duccio, who had attempted to fashion this marble forty years earlier, perhaps with the same subject in mind. Michelangelo, in just 3 years turned it into the ultimate masterpiece. Once the statue was completed in 1504, a committee of the highest ranking citizens and artists decided that it was too perfect to place on top of the Duomo and instead would be placed in the main square of the town, in front of the Palazzo Vecchio, where a copy sits today (the original is in the Galleria Accademia built to house David). It was the first time since antiquity that a large statue of a nude was to be exhibited in a public place.
David, depicted as a idealized and muscular young shephard boy armed only with a sling thrown over his shoulder and some stones cradled in his right (oversized) hand heads out to face Goliath. The statue captures David as he stares out in the distance at his enemy. He's relaxed yet alert, leaning on one leg in a classical pose. One of the most amazing features is his steady gaze, which displays intense concentration and also extreme confidence. Because of this, David is a symbol of Renaissance optimism. He's not a brute like Goliath but a civilized, thinking individual who could rationalize to overcome a problem. This confidence in the mind and body of the common man is the new Renaissance outlook and David is the ultimate Renaissance Man.
Florentines identified with David, as they saw themselves as a civilized Renaissance people, slaying the brutish giant of medieval superstition, pessimism and oppression.

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