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



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

  1. Michelangelo’s Awakening Giant, although unfinished, I feel is as masterful and complete as any other work of his. As Leeds inferred, its looks not like an unfinished work of art, but a complete statement of man’s struggle with the world around him, constantly attempting to escape this earth. When I first laid eyes on this piece I noticed how incomplete it was, but then I realized that it seems to almost be entirely complete. It looks perfect. It looks as it the marble was intended to engulf him.

  2. it is a work of art,You can see the detail he put in the body carving out the physique. I think he had an image in his head for the body that he couldn’t think of a head that would do the body justice

  3. I personally don’t feel that the “Awakening Giant” is Michelangelo’s best work. So many of his other pieces show such attention to detail that it demands your attention and admiration. I can understand the enjoyment David Leeds gets from these particular works, because they are still very impressive, but to list them at the top of Michelangelo’s jaw dropping resume would be a little presumptuous. After doing some reading in regards to the bound slave figures by Michelangelo I found that they were supposed to be placed in the facade of the tomb for Pope Julius II. He contracted Michelangelo and also pulled him off these projects on multiple occasions to work on other pieces. Upon hearing of the possible location of the projects I wondered If the pieces were meant to be placed into niches or against a wall in the tomb? If that was the case would the backs of the works need to be finished? It just seems odd that he left so much excess stone around the figures and especially the back sides of all the statues. I always understood Michelangelo’s technique was to start at the torso and work his way out. So I was surprised when he didn’t clear away the excess stone from the hip areas so he could work on the elbow areas with more freedom. Perhaps he left the extra material around the limbs to aid in stability of the weaker pieces of the carving? I was extremely surprised that he started so many statues without finishing the previous project. A man who can spend nearly 4.5-5 years on one painting would need a laser like focus so this lack of follow through is surprising.

  4. At first glance at the sculpture I did not see what Leed saw, however, after reading what Leed wrote and looking at the sculpture again i was able to imagine the sculpture trying to escape out of the marble that was holding him captive.

  5. First, I think this sculpture is awesome even though it wasn’t finished. I do understand what Leeds is saying about it and it does look as if something is holding him back. I would like to think that is what Michelangelo meant but considering it’s not finished we’ll never know. I do like how Leeds was able to create his own understanding of the sculpture and actually give it meaning. I’m not saying that because it’s not finished it has no meaning but it is hard to read and because of his comment it opens the doors to give anything meaning whether it’s finished or not. Basically I do agree with him

  6. It is very interesting to see how and study the unfinished work of Michelangelo. Especially the waking giant, it leaves the observer with a sense of wonder. It makes a person think, what would Michelangelo’s finished piece looked like. It is a captivating piece of art.

  7. I agree with David Leeds. I believe what truly makes the Awakening Giant so great and captivating is that it is incomplete! What you get is an emerging figure from imprisoning stone that Michelangelo saw as extraneous, giving the viewer a strong sense of struggle, suffering and might. I think that the philosophical metaphor associated with this work of art is quite poignant as well. The aspect of Neo-Platonic philosophy that Leeds addresses can be seen in modern times where we, as a collective society, strive to better ourselves within the respective workforce and further our industrial services to provide ourselves and each other with financial stability, comfort, freedom and liberty from all others. Much of this universal desire entails great struggle and adversity until the end result can finally be realized by some – not all. The same notion can be applied to the Awakening Giant and vice versa. Without struggle, there is no progress by which we can free ourselves from the imprisoning stone of life’s many obstacles.

  8. I agree in some cases because it does seem as if the sculpture is trying to break through and he is constraint. But then again when you just look at something and your not reading into it you just see it as unfinished sloppy art work and move on. But what I think when I see this sculpture is a break through. Life always shows us the bad and we have to break through and get through the rough patches that life throws at us, and to me it shows that he isn’t giving up and he is making progress and he is building himself out of nothing and as he is breaking through he is building and shaping himself..or maybe I am just reading to far deep into it..

  9. Michelangelo’s Awakening Giant is so fascinating to me because it is such a good visual for the concept of the sculpture being a completed work within the marble. I would like to think of it as a finished piece. I pretend the Giant has been awake and out of the mable but has begun the process of going back inside. I see the stone as being a representation of the earth or the place we go once we haved both lived and died. It is like our body is not so much a prison, but more of a vehicle to allow our soul to engage in a brief physical encounter with consciousness.

  10. Though it is an unfinished work of art and, more importantly, was never meant to look as it does, it speaks volumes of the struggles within the mind many of us go through. Though we are able to see a portion of this figure, we can never know what exactly was intended. I believe Michelangelo would not view this as a work of art, but rather an unfinished project. I tend to disagree with Leeds simply because this is only a vision of what was intended. Still, it is undeniable that “The Sleeping Giant” carries a mystic all it’s own.

  11. I do not believe that the meaning Leeds got from the sculpture was what Michelangelo intended, but I also believe that what a person gets from a piece of art is more important then what the artist intended. I also believe that because Michelangelo did not intend this interpretation it gives it more meaning, after all the physical constraints of his body prevented him from completing the sculpture.

  12. Michelangelo’s Awakening Giant, strikes me as a great art piece in the MAKING. I would have loved to see what the finished piece would have looked like. I do agree with Leeds opinion on it being extremely powerful. Judging off of the unfinished piece, i’d like to say that it has potential to move people much more. With it not being done, it kind of displays itself as a boring piece of art keeping people pondering on how to interpret it.

  13. I think that the sculpture is not one of the best of Michelangelo. I personally prefer the David. But this sculpture is not ‘bad, in fact it is interesting. It depends on the perspective from which I want to play. if it is incomplete and meaningless or incomplete and double meaning. a man imprisoned in the rock or a man that comes from a cold piece of marble.

  14. After reading Leeds thought of the Awakening Giant, I now see and understand the admirations people have for it. Leeds made me see this sculptor with a different perspective. The remaining marble works as quick sand engulfing and detaining the giant from what I feel is transformation. Even though Michaelangelo didn’t finish this statue, we can tell it’s meaning with what he did.

  15. I agree with many of you, I think it is fascinating even if it is not finished. I see exactly what Leed is saying you can see the hard work that went into this project and it is a very strong sculpture. I cannot imagine this being an easy task and showing so much detail to the body is awesome.

  16. Awakening Giant seems, to me, to be biographical. Yes, Leed’s description is accurate. Could Michaelangelo have made the decision to finish all the other slave sculptures and leave this one unfinished? I know he ran out of time so we’ll never know.

  17. The passage from Leed accurately states my opinion as well. As I can see it, the “unfinished” sculpture lively presents the struggle of the Giant inside of it. The naturalness of the stone and the carved Giant’s body becomes a strong comparison leading the audiences to imagine the force the Giant is generating.

  18. After reading the above paragraph, sure I can see how it looks like some form of man trying to escape a struggle of some sort or break free from whats holding him back, and I think this piece is really powerful. But, before I read it and just looked at the picture, I kinda thought of it as what If I turned in something like this? People would think I was just a lazy guy who didn’t finish it, another person who just missed the deadline and came up with something on the fly. So I have mixed feelings about the piece. Yes I like it, but still, I have to wonder about the little things like that.

  19. The way I feel about it is similar to Leeds. I feel like the man is trapped by some unknown force and he’s trying to escape. The way he is looking up and to the side suggests an emotion of longing to me; as if he knows there is more out there and that there’s more to life than all that’s in the small space that confines him.

  20. I agree with Leeds’ vision of Michelangelo’s Awakening Giant. I would never be able to describe the piece as eloquently as Leeds did, but I think his analysis of the symbolism in the piece is accurate and inspiring.

    At first glance, the sculpture did not appeal to my senses very much, I thought of it as “unfinished.” But after reading Leeds’ description of the piece and giving it another try, I can feel the movement and power that comes from the piece. I feel this is a very original and inspiring piece by Michelangelo.

  21. When I frist time see this stone I just think it is a normal stone and there is some patter over there, but when I look the stone carefully I saw a people in the stone. And I agree with his idea. I am feeling so strong, he is a giant, he want to come out form the stone but he need use their all energy. And I think his sprite is encourage us.

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