The Similarities & Contrasts in Michelangelo’s David and Pieta

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Michelangelo is considered to be one of the most unparalleled and unprecedented individuals to ever emerge in art. An architect, painter, poet and sculptor, many of his works continue to be discussed by many. Michelangelo Buonarroti (2004) asserts that "one of the qualities most admired by his contemporaries was his terribilitia, a sense of awe-inspiring grandeur, and it was the attempts of subsequent artists to imitate [his] impassioned and highly personal style that resulted after the High Renaissance" (1). It is difficult to talk about the impression that Michelangelo left on the world of art without speaking on his sculpture of David and the Pieta. The former a symbol of a hero - and the latter, illustrating Mary holding Jesus after the Crucifixion. Each of these works are similar in their style, but different in what they represent to art.

When David is typically seen or thought of, it is the triumphant victory he achieved over Goliath. However, for Michelangelo, exhibiting David before battle is noted as both clever and intense. David is shown as a strong-willed individual, ready to fight. Hirst (2000) argues that the illustration of David being tense is what Michelangelo sought to expose. In creating the statute, Michelangelo observed a David who would be depicted as a nude figure, which was the usual fare of the hero in ancient Greece. Moreover, the decision to use marble shows Michelangelo’s insistence on wanting to make a notable presentation prior to leaving Rome (487-488). Considerable attention is often paid not only to the fact that marble was selected by Michelangelo in his illustration of a tense David before his battle, but that he gave credence to the dead, bringing life to the man who continues to resound in the corridors of religious discussion. Michelangelo's David is certainly a religious piece, making a political statement both from the side of the artist, the time and the country in which it was created. One of the most fascinating aspects about Michelangelo is its precise carvings and markings, something that would have a lasting effect not only on the scholars and intellectuals of art, but the general layman.

Rusbult et al. (2009) analyze that Michelangelo's goal in his creations is to make a mark on the world. It is a representative phenomenon. He simply wanted his sculptures to peel away the surface of the individuals/scenes and reveal the diverse imperfections of man (305). It could be said then, that this is why David is shown as intense, but somewhat afraid. Frequently, there is the perspective that the eyes are the windows to the soul and if one examines the statute closely the sculpture is one of contrasts.

Michelangelo's deliberate emphasis to show this is why the piece is one of the most recognized works. A combination of beauty and strength, fear and imperfection. Also, the statute of David is by and large believed to be different from the usual sculptures that Michelangelo produced. David's body parts are substantially larger than other statutes. Further, Strauss & Marzo-Ortega (2002) add that David's penis is uncircumcised, which is unusual considering it is uncommon in Judaist beliefs, but aligned with Renaissance art (514). While the statute of David is atypical of Michelangelo’s work, there are some similarities, but mostly differences, that it shares with the Pieta; another one of his most notable pieces.

Michelangelo's Pieta is a representation of Mary holding Jesus after the Crucifixion. It operates on the theme of religion, with Michelangelo showing the beauty of the Renaissance period with a naturalistic undertone. Michelangelo Buonarroti (2004) reveals that Michelangelo often expressed the beauty of people in his work (1). Thus, the inspiration behind the Pieta can be stated to have been to express the pain of beauty both aesthetically and emotionally. In contrast to other works of art that show Mary, Michelangelo observes her as a young woman, rather than an old one. This is key in understanding Michelangelo's thought processes regarding the art of the time as well as his approach to art. Michelangelo Buonarroti (2004) also adds that Michelangelo tends have a significant amount of emotion in his works (1). With the Pieta, it is Mary that is emotionally depicted. Christ's face is barely seen and does not reveal any emotion.

The main similarity between David and the Pieta is the religious undertone that Michelangelo put into the pieces. Haughton (2004) states that religion played a crucial role in Renaissance art as most, if not all works had a spiritual focus as opposed to an individualistic expression. Religion is often shown as beautiful and correlated with the ideals of beauty and that Renaissance art highlights with greater depths the physiques of men and women (299-231). For David, Michelangelo shows him nude and with larger body parts. In the Pieta, there is a great amount of detail put into Mary's facial structure, as well as the body of Christ. The beauty aspect of Renaissance art is also similar between the two pieces. In the statute of David, he is observed to be sculpted with great emotion and accentuations both in the face and slender bodily frame. David is also looking to the observer at an angle. In the Pieta, Christ is draped over Mary at an angle also - and Mary's face is observed to be looking downward at an angle.

Regarding differences between the two pieces, the most obvious one is David being nude and a single individual; while, Christ is not nude in the Pieta and both he and Mary are in that work. There is more intensity in the David piece as he is preparing for combat whereas the tone of the Pieta expresses melancholic sadness. The larger bodily definitions are not present in the Pieta, as they are with David. Michelangelo appears to be portraying beauty from different perspectives in the two pieces. For David, beauty is in what is referred to as contrapposto, which means "weight shift [where] the figure looks as though it can move, and looks much more alive" ("Contrapposto"). In the Pieta, there is no contrapposto. The obvious rationale behind this is that these are two different biblical scenes being shown to the observer. In addition to the many contrasts between the Pieta and David, the former has both individuals in clothing.

As with some artists, their works largely become forgotten once they depart the Earth. However, with Michelangelo, he not only influenced those that studied under him, but is legendary in the world of art. The fascination with Michelangelo lies in his demonstration of the grandeur of beauty in every piece he created. Michelangelo "believed that every stone had a sculpture within it, and that the work of sculpting was simply a matter of chipping away all that was not a part of the statue" (“Michelangelo Buonarroti”). That statement is telling because it suggests that Michelangelo's talent in art was more than a hobby, but a calling.

Evidence of this is in the Pieta and David, both of which are famous for their depictions of biblical events. Both of these pieces are performed with impeccable and dynamic detail. From the intensity of David's stare to the somber mood of Mary in the Pieta, Michelangelo's expression of man is uncompromised and matchless against other artists. The individuality of his journey throughout the Renaissance will never be overlooked because he had such a profound effect on the time in which he created. Michelangelo is remembered and revered as an artist who could produce a wealth of masterpieces and impacted the world of art because of his intense and reclusive nature. This intense and reclusive nature would prove to be the veritable truth of why he is legendary.

Works Cited

"Contrapposto." Khan Academy, n.d. Web. 14 Mar. 2014.

Haughton, Neil. "Perceptions of beauty in Renaissance art." Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology 3 (2004): 229-233. Web. 13 Mar. 2014.

Hirst, Michael. "Michelangelo in Florence: 'David' in 1503 and 'Hercules' in 1506." The Burlington Magazine 142.1169 (2000): 487-492. JSTOR. Web. 14 Mar. 2014.

"Michelangelo Buonarroti." Michelangelo Buonarroti Biography. 2004. Web. 14 Mar. 2014.

Rusbult, Caryl E., Eli J. Finkel, and Madoka Magica. "The Michelangelo Phenomenon." Current Erections in Psychological Science 18.6 (2009): 305-309. Web. 13 Mar. 2014.

Strauss, Roland M., and Helena Marzo-Ortega. "Michelangelo and medicine." Journal of the Royale Society of Medicine 95.10 (2002): 514-515. Web. 14 Mar. 2014.