Giacobbe Giusti, ‘Michelangelo’s Unfinished Atlas Slave ‘
Muscle, brawn emerges from the rock. It swells but never changes, a constant static outward force, twisting but never adjusting.
We calculate the missing parts spatially. We see no head, no hand, but breathing is labored beneath that marble as the hand pushes outwards, beckoning release. Leonardo da Vinci’s idea of the calculated anatomical figure is challenged – Michelangelo’s execution is rooted a deeper understanding of his subject. This understanding is super human. We cannot wrap our heads around his method even as it stares us in the face, and the artist stands as god-like as Michelangelo always imagined himself to be.
Michelangelo was a sculptor’s sculptor. His drawings and paintings are beautiful and important to Renaissance art history for many reasons, but his eyes and his hands were made to carve bodies out of stone. He famously described his practice of carving as freeing the figure from the marble.
Whether or not the final “unfinished” state of Michelangelo’s pieces was intentional is up for debate. The series was begun as a part of the artist’s massive vision for the tomb of Pope Julius II in 1506. The project was unfortunately dramatically scaled down after the death of the pope in 1513, though Michelangelo worked on these figures through to 1530, and subsequently went untouched until Michelangelo’s death in 1564. The four unfinished slaves remain in Florence at the Accademia.
An abstraction that plays between the reality of the rock and the realism of the figure. Jumping back and forth, representation is suspended in tension between. We are simultaneously aware of the rock and the figure, the figure within the rock and the rock absorbing the figure. Our perception is captured and looking is not easy as it was with the David. Seeing is a struggle of epic but human proportions.