Michaelangelo Essay, Research Paper
Michelangelo and the Monk
I chose to compare Michelangelo s great sculpture of David, and the Exalted Chinese Monk from the Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, at the Seattle Art Museum. These two share many characteristics, yet they are also very much different from one another. Looking at both of them, they seemed to contrast from each other like black and white. While at the same time they seem to compliment each other.
The high point of Michelangelo’s early style is the gigantic (4.34 m/ 14.24 ft) marble David, which he produced between 1501 and 1504, after returning to Florence. The character of David and what he symbolizes, was perfectly in tune with Michelangelo’s patriotic feelings. At the time, Florence was going through a difficult period, and its citizens had to be alert and mobilized to confront permanent threats. He used David as a model of heroic courage, in the hope that the Florentines would understand his message. This young Biblical hero demonstrated that inner spiritual strength can prove to be more effective than arms. David s faith in God enabled this young shepherd to overcome Israel’s enemies, using a mere sling, which is the only element in the composition enabling us to identify the figure of David. The strong confidant air of David is very clearly seen in Michelangelo s magnificent sculpture.
Michelangelo chose to represent David as an athletic, manly character, very concentrated and ready to fight. The extreme tension is evident in his look and in the stone he is holding in his right hand. Eyes watchful, David stands poised to strike. The Old Testament hero is depicted as a nude youth, muscular and alert, looking of into the distance as if he was sizing up the enemy Goliath, whom he had not yet been encountered with. With this statue, Michelangelo proved to his peers that he not only surpassed all modern artists, but also the Greeks and Romans by combining formal beauty with powerful expressiveness and emotion.
The meaning of this David becomes fully clear if we take into consideration the historical circumstances of its creation. Michelangelo was devoted to the Republic, and wanted each citizen to become aware of his responsibilities and commit himself to accomplishing his duty.
Michelangelo wrote in his diaries, “When I returned to Florence, I found myself famous. The City Council asked me to carve a colossal David from a nineteen-foot block of marble — and damaged to boot! I locked myself away in a workshop behind the cathedral, hammered and chiseled at the towering block for three long years. In spite of the opposition of a committee of fellow artists, I insisted that the figure should stand before the Palazzo Vecchio, as a symbol of our Republic. I had my way. Archways were torn down, narrow streets widened…it took forty men five days to move it. Once in place, all Florence was astounded. A civic hero, he was a warning that whoever governed Florence should govern justly and defend it bravely. (Internet source 1)
When Buddhism arrived in China from southern Asia in the second or third century A.D., it brought with it the figure of the enlightened disciple, or lohan . By the ninth century, the lohan had come to embody several concepts that had originated more than a millennium before in the teachings of early philosophers: the denial of the attractions of physical beauty, an appreciation for closeness to nature, and the embracing of startling incongruities. The Enlightened Monks were the first disciples of the historical Buddha Shakyamuni. They attained enlightenment through a regimen of strict study and trained contemplation.
This sculpture dates to the Yuan dynasty (1279 1368), when China was under rule of the Mongols and many Chinese escaped into the refuge of nature and religion. During the resulting upsurge in Chan Buddhism, Daoism, and exotic forms of Buddhism, images of lohans were created in great numbers.
In certain forms of Buddhism, the moment of enlightenment was thought to come as a sudden flash of awestruck recognition with profound physical and emotional effects. We can see that in this sculpture as we look at the lohan s startled facial expression, the rigid pose of his back, and the excited movement of his legs. The statue invokes deep thinking, and brings a lot of questions to mind. Such as, what he is thinking, and what just happened previous to this scene. The monk definitely has a look of enlightenment, yet at the same time there is an element of surprise showing on his face. Possibly, his enlightenment did come as a sudden flash of awestruck recognition, as said in the Chinese legends, and he was not quite expecting whatever happened to him.
The denial of the attraction of physical beauty shows in the figure s large ears, heavy eyebrows, bulging eyes, and bulbous nose, features particularly offensive to the Chinese notions of beauty. Strangely attached to that face is an elegantly proportioned and ornately draped body. We can also see the appreciation for closeness with nature in this sculpture. The figure as a whole is firmly placed in a natural setting, represented by the rock on which the lohan sits. The monk himself is very prominent and exalted, but he is placed in a simple setting among nature. This piece of art does an excellent job of expressing that contrast, which is very prevalent in the Chinese culture.
I find there are definite comparisons between the two statues. They both have an air of authority and power. David has confidence that God will help him defeat the mighty Goliath. The enlightened monk is extremely confidant because of his spiritual enlightenment. They both have the seasoned look of someone who has had many experiences throughout their lives, shaping their character. Most importantly, both have had some kind of close encounter with their god. As we know from the Bible, God spoke to David and told him to challenge Goliath. The monk is shown at the time, or close to the time of his spiritual enlightenment. So we know that both of them are on a sort of spiritual high, and they both carry confidence from those experiences.
The differences between the two come mostly in the religious context in which they are created. Both creations are very ornate and detailed sculptures. On David especially there is an obsessive amount of detail expressed throughout his body. We can see the expression on his face, the muscles on his arms and back, and even the tendons and toenails on his feet. The monk is also very detailed, which can be seen in his intricate robe flowing over his body, and also on the startled expression upon his face. However, David seems to contain so much more power than the monk. I believe it is because David is a religious symbol of the one true God above. However, the monk receives his confidence from the false god of Buddha. Therefore, although he looks confidant and poised, it is almost a false sense of security, which we know will fail him in the end. Even though the two sculptures have a lot of similarities stylistically, they differ in the meaning and religious views which they each represent.
From the standard of Michelangelo s work, my chosen piece is much the same, and is almost a smaller version of the David. From the view of Michelangelo s David however, the monk could be seen as puny and second rate. Even though the monk does have a great amount of detail, it is on a much smaller scale and doesn t have the majestic air that the mighty David carries.
If we evaluate them both from the artistic style of the monk, David might seem to be overdone. The monk is very thoughtful and he seems to have a look upon his face that says, I know something you don t, so you better watch out. He is almost cracking a tiny smile that would indicate his confidence in feeling better than us. From his view, David might seem to be a big thug with no brains. The two sculptures are very much the same stylistically, however the tremendous difference in size gives each it s own definite style.
After evaluating the two pieces of art and looking at each of them extensively, I really have a deeper sense of the power of God. Although that might sound strange, I can really see God s magnificence shining throughout David. When I look at the monk, I see a false sense of security, because his faith will crumble in the end. To me I see the statue of David overshadowing the much smaller Chinese Monk, much the same way I see God overcoming the false prophets and gods of this world. I believe these feelings indicate that God has given me an important place in this world. We know that David was just a boy when he defeated Goliath, yet God used him in tremendous ways. It gives me hope that God can really use even a teenager like myself, if I allow Him to take control of my life.