Michelangelo Buonnaroti s Dying Slave
The Dying Slave, a marble sculpture by Michelangelo Buonnaroti, now resides at the Louvre in Paris. Dying Slave was intended to be a part of Pope Julius II s tomb. Michelangelo started on the Dying Slave in 1505 and ended in 1513, at the Pope s death when economic factors changed plans for the tomb. Because of his great intelligence, Michelangelo is probably the most famous of all sculptors, and his two Slaves in the Louvre, including the Dying Slave and the Rebellious Slave, are the best known works in the sculpture department.
Michelangelo s father and art mentor was Lorenzo de Medici s, a famous artist. He was therefore exposed heavily to the arts and thoughts of the ancient world. This resulted in Michelangelo s art as well as his poetry bearing at first a great resemblance to the art and thought of the ancient world. As he got better his art slowly progressed into something nobody else had ever accomplished, setting new standards for artists of the Renaissance. Michelangelo s art had two main components which were also two components of the Renaissance art style. These consist of a revival of the classical forms originally developed by the ancient Greeks and Romans, a great concern for secular life, along with an interest in humanism and individualism. Michelangelo, along with many artists of the High Renaissance, reduced his art to the bare essentials, in order for attention to be focused on the theme of the art piece.
Michelangelo viewed himself primarily as a sculptor, describing art as a calling through which we are brought to recognize humans dignity. Michelangelo claimed that his sole tool was the chisel. Beauty was to him divine, and one of the many ways God communicated with humans.
The High Renaissance, the period during which Michelangelo was an artist, signified change for the art community. Michelangelo set out to produce actual scenes of life, not only those of happiness and divine settings, but of such scenes as a dying slave and a rebellious slave. Michelangelo saw himself primarily as a sculptor, viewing art as a sacred calling through which the dignity of human beings should be enhanced and celebrated. Michelangelo insisted throughout his lifetime that his sole tool was the chisel.
Individualism, or the value of being an individual, is portrayed in the Dying Slave s face and the gestures and flow of the body. It is evident in the face where the intensity of the light draws attention to the figure s expression. This is also an example of Michelangelo s mastery of light and shading. He used linear perspective to make this sculpture look The body of the Dying Slave is neither that of an elderly person, nor is it that of an infant. Each body part is proportional to a normal body. This sculpture has a definite flow, going up through the bent left leg, to the bent left elbow, back down the figure through the bent head, the right arm and the chest, and then down the hip and returning to the ground through the foot, which is seemingly sinking down into the ground. Marble is used in this piece because it is the only material capable of providing the glow that is necessary for producing a complement to this sculpture s firm muscular form, and therefore is also extremely capable of expressing individualism very effectively. This choice of materials is very common for Michelangelo when he does sculptures of the human form. A common misconception in analyzing the Dying Slave is to say that he is dying, when he is actually sleeping and is instinctively trying to free himself from his dream, explaining the motion of his left arm.
Dying Slave reflects humanism in that Michelangelo made this sculpture for the Pope s tomb, and it had to be good enough for the pope, who is the most respected religious figure in the world. It is also humanistic in that it displays god s control over humans, as well as Michelangelo s decision to leave marks from his tools in the marble with intent to display the struggle with matter which is an essential characteristic of sculpture. Michelangelo used the techniques of light and shading, symmetry, and proportion in creating the Dying Slave. With everything in proportion, the light and shading being used effectively, and the figure being as symmetrical as that of a real human figure, this sculpture looks incredibly realistic, as if it were modeled off of a real human figure.
The Dying Slave is a secular art piece, representing those views of a polytheistic belief system. In ancient times, monkeys were symbols of lower existence. The monkey behind the body of the Dying Slave on Pope Julius II s tomb represents that the distance between the monkey and the slave is equal to the distance between the slave and the gods. Michelangelo wished to express, by use of the Dying Slave the insuperable distance that serves as a barrier between man chained within his skeleton and divine beings. The Dying Slave represents the soul s struggle to leave the body, which acts as a cage for the soul.