Michelangelo: The Devil in the Detail

Hand Detail. David. 1504

Michelangelo or Il Divino (the divine one) as he was affectionately referred to, was touched by the Gods. His long life brought about a legacy that seems somewhat incomparable to anything else that ever affected not just art, but life. More than five hundred years later, his work is still revered as one of the few immaculate pieces of man.

He was a painter, sculptor, architect and poet; producing reputable pieces of work in each field. As much as we would like to sit and ramble on about some of the greatest Renaissance works known to man, rather we will focus on just his sculptures, particularly the demi-Godesque detail to his sculptures.

David. 1504
David. 1504

As you may know, his method of carving is still a mystery to the world. Even the great Vasari, who was completely infatuated by him, never got to his him at work. He was known to carve at night in the dark, hidden away in halls where no one could see him Furthermore he infamously refused to take on any apprentices, so his technique left the world with him.

The Pieta. 1499
The Pieta. 1499

Michelangelo produced some of the most elegant and intricate sculptures; from David to the Pieta. The more we look at them, the more we are mesmerized by the level of detail he achieved from blocks of stone. There are three specific pieces that we find particularly fascinating.

The Pieta is one of Michelangelo’s most famous works of art. It depicts a heavily draped Mary holding her crucified son, forming a pyramidal shape from the top of Mary’s head, down to the outstretched limbs of Jesus.

The Pieta. 1499
The Pieta. 1499

The detail in the drapes were extremely accentuated and – dare we say – somewhat exaggerated, perhaps the infatuation of a young artist still honing his skill. (Michelangelo was only 23 at the time).

The Pieta. 1499
The Pieta. 1499

Many have argued about the size of Mary, clearly overbearing in stature in comparison to the fragile Jesus. This may be a consequence of the contrast in clothing.

The Pieta. 1499
The Pieta. 1499

In 1515 he finally completed Moses as part of an intended 40 piece ensemble. This was never achieved. Instead he sculpted a ‘horned’ Moses clutching onto stone tablets as the centre piece for the tomb of Pope Julius II.

Moses. 1515
Moses. 1515

Once again the fabric detail and the organic nature of Moses’ hair is astounding. One has to keep reminding themselves that this is solid marble. The detail of his fingers running through his beard is what we appreciate most about this piece.

Moses. 1515
Moses. 1515

And of course, there is David…

When all was finished, it cannot be denied that this work has carried off the palm from all other statues, modern or ancient, Greek or Latin; no other artwork is equal to it in any respect, with such just proportion, beauty and excellence did Michelangelo finish it”. – Giorgio Vasari

David. 1504
David. 1504

Unveiled in 1504, David was a Florentine favourite. Michelangelo opted to sculpt a young David, slightly slouched to one side and staring into the abyss. The composition and resting position of the figure is incredibly realistic, although, once again some have pointed to the notion that the figure’s head may be slightly over-sized.

Hand Detail. David. 1504
Hand Detail. David. 1504

At 5.2m in height, the form and detail of the figure’s anatomy is as close to perfection as man could ever create; a captured moment of subtle motion is emphasized with contrapposto. Beyond the muscle definition, hair detail and bone structure, the details of the natural path of the subject’s visible blood vessels are absolutely mind blowing.

Head Detail. David. 1504
Head Detail. David. 1504

Much like the Pieta, everything “wrong” that Michelangelo did is considered either a fault in the eye of the beholder or the intended and purposeful direction that he took.  To quote every other art historian – “Do you think Michelangelo made mistakes?”