Michelangelo’s Awakening Giant: The Renaissance Artist’s Struggle to Free his “Enlightened Spirit Within”

David Leeds, an American filmmaker, poet and sculptor, made the following remark upon seeing Michelangelo’s Awakening Giant in the Florence Academy:  “This piece is one of the most powerful and expressive works of art I’ve ever seen. The figure feels like it is writhing and straining, and going to imminently explode out of the marble block that holds it. The latent power one feels is extraordinary. Is this a Herculean effort to be born physically from the imprisoning stone, or a titanic struggle to escape the bounds of physical reality and move onto some other plane? I certainly don’t know for sure, but it feels like the business at hand here is cosmic.  Michelangelo is famous for saying that he worked to liberate the forms imprisoned in the marble. He saw his job as simply removing what was extraneous. The endless struggle of man to free himself from his physical constraints and liberate the more enlightened spirit within, was part of the Neo-Platonic philosophy that was in vogue in Florence at this time. The burden of the flesh constrains the soul. This is by far the most dynamic and expressive battleground of these forces I’ver ever encountered. The metaphor is inescapable.”  Do you agree with Leeds’ vision of Michelangelo’s Awakening Giant?  What are your thoughts on this “unfinished” sculpture by the great Florentine master genius?

 

Michelangelo, The Awakening Giant

 

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Thoughts on the Renaissance

Bernhard Berenson, a famed American Art Historian whose study of Renaissance art helped define and sustain interest in the aesthetic contributions of the Italian artists and thinkers of the 14th to 16th centuries.  Berenson felt the creative genius of the Renaissance was driven by youth, by exceptionally talented and gifted geniuses who also happened to be young when their aesthetic powers catapulted them into the rarified air we call the Renaissance.  Berenson wrote the following statement in his book The Venetian Painters (1894) about the presence of a powerful energy and vigor emanating from such young prodigies as Michelangelo and Raphael:  “The Renaissance…stands for youth, and youth alone…for intellectual curiosity and energy grasping at the whole of life as material which it hopes to mould to any shape.”  Do you see or feel “youth” in the Italian Renaissance?

Bernhard Berenson

 

One of the many books written by Bernhard Berenson which helped define and sustain interest in the Italian Renaissance