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A Tale of Two Tassels - Raphael and Holbein in The National Gallery, London

March 3, 2017

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Galleria dell'Accademia, Florence

The Accademia in Florence is home to Michelangelo's David, which is *easily* the most famous sculpture in the world (and has been since it was completed 500 years ago). 

 

It's also home to a half dozen of Michelangelo's "non-finito" or 'unfinished' sculptures - mainly figures meant to adorn funerary monuments and churches... projects which were either cancelled or had to be postponed (forever) when he was called to Rome to work for this-Pope-or-that... (he worked consecutively for 8 popes in a row; not always by choice).

The emotive power of an unfinished Michelangelo is still more potent than most of us could hope to attain no matter HOW long we labor or how scrupulously we 'finish' our works. His talent was just unreal. Even the way he sculpted - 500 years later - is a complete mystery. Traditionally when one sculpts marble they work "in the round" which is a fancy way of saying they work on the entire thing at once. On all sides. Not Mike. He started from the front and just did the whole thing from top to bottom... in other words, from one side only... and then just kind of chiseled away - almost DRAWING with his hammer and drills - kind of arbitrarily finishing whichever parts he wanted to at any given moment... 

He'd complete a small (clay or wax) sculpture first (sometimes a full-sized sculpture, first), and use it as reference. But for the most part he was improvising as he worked, with HAMMERING blows and incredible strength, to create these unfinished figures that are masterpieces in their own right. For hundreds of years the greatest minds in Western art have spoken about how the figures seem to be "emerging" or "awakening" - neither do justice because honestly - there are no words to describe the magnificence and majesty exuded by these larger-than-life figures. 

 

The unfinished works are arranged opposite one another in a corridor which leads directly to the only finished statue in the room - a SUPREMELY finished statue - The David. Holy shit. You've got to see this thing. In person. Breathe it in.

 

If hearts had tongues it would be fair to say you can taste it from across the room. You can FEEL it... a presence as real as any human; as any celebrity; he is a "him" and seems to have a soul... of course it's just a piece of rock at the end of the day. But if ever there were a case for alchemy it's how Michelangelo turned this stone into supple, shining, flesh. Needless to say I was completely in awe. My wife said I walked toward it in reverence; in a processional a bit like a bride walking down the aisle...  I absolutely felt reverence in the presence of greatness. 

 

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