Sunday, January 6, 2013

Michelangelo's David-Apollo

Where: National Gallery of Art, West Building

When: through March 3, 2013

It's been a long time since we Washingtonians have seen this sculpture.  The year was 1949, and it was here for the second inauguration of Harry Truman.  Times have changed a lot since David-Apollo's last visit, but Michelangelo's work has weathered the years unchanged.

A word about the unusual name: there is considerable uncertainty among scholars over whether this is meant to be a statute of David or of Apollo.  The hyphen is really a way of covering all bases.  The uncertainty is due in part to the fact that in some historical sources it's referred to as David and in others as Apollo, but it's also because the statue is unfinished.  Apparently, Michelangelo was prone to leaving works undone, or non-finito.  This allows the viewer to get a look at the artistic process, by seeing something that is less than the finished product, which is very interesting, but it does make one wonder if the artist had some sort of issue with closure.  Could he have been afraid of commitment?

Kidding aside, the portions of the work that are left unfinished are exactly those that would give the greatest clues to the statute's identity.  His left arm is reaching for something on his back - is it a quiver of arrows, suggesting Apollo?  His right foot is resting on something - maybe Goliath's head, which would make him David?  It's unlikely we'll ever know, but it's a fine statue, whoever it's meant to represent.

I'm happy to say that this exhibit ushers in "2013: The Year of Italian Culture" at the National Gallery, so I'm looking forward to more shows featuring Italian art.

Verdict:  When is Michelangelo not worth a look?  You can easily combine this figure with another show at the National Gallery, or a trip to part of their permanent collection.

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