How to live for 513 years


Dear Artist,

At the Galleria dell’Accademia in Florence, David gazes past the selfie-sticks towards Rome in a qualified stare. A vibration detector at his left heel monitors traffic, construction, earthquakes and the incurable footsteps of his visitors, dribbling now in controlled numbers into the atrium. At 17 feet tall and 6 tonnes, he’s perfect except for tiny fractures in his ankles. Italian scientists found them during some tests recently, while trying to figure out why he was leaning a little past his intended contrapposto (the body-twist and weight distribution designed by his creator). While David’s balance is just so, those first 350 years outside in the elements of the Piazza della Signoria have threatened his fifth century of uprightness.


Michelangelo’s David, 1501-1504

In 1410, the overseers of the Office of Works of the Florence Cathedral commissioned a series of large Old Testament figures to adorn the Cathedral’s buttresses. A block of white Carrara marble for the statue of David was brought from the Apuan Alps to Florence and a couple of whiz-bangs took passes at the job in succession, roughing in proportions and then mysteriously giving up. By then the block had been nicknamed, “The Giant,” and was abandoned in the churchyard for a couple of decades. Eventually, the overseers raised the block to stand vertically in the hope that it might inspire a new master. Twenty-six-year-old Michelangelo took the commission and tapped his chisel in the Fall of 1501. He worked non-stop, sleeping in his clothes and covered in marble dust for the next 2 1/2 years.


“Every block of stone has a statue inside and the task of the sculptor is to discover it.” (Michelangelo)

After realizing it would be physically impossible to get David up onto the Cathedral’s roof and organizing a committee to figure out where to put him instead, he was placed in the Piazza in central Florence. From there he eyed the Republic’s rival, Rome, with the wariness of the Biblical boy about to face his nemesis giant, Goliath. With the exception of a bench, tossed from a window and breaking his arm in 1527, and enduring the Second World War encased in protective bricks, David weathered over three centuries there without catastrophe until he was moved in 1873 for safekeeping to the Accademia. In 1991, after David was attacked with a hammer by a deranged artist, conservators analyzing chips from his left foot discovered the marble was riddled with organically-formed microscopic holes. A debate ensued in 2008 about whether cleaning him with water would accelerate his erosion. In the end, David’s been left to stand on his own weak ankles under the diffused softness of the Accademia’s dome. “I saw the angel in the marble and carved, until I set him free.”


Damaged left foot



PS: “Anyone who has seen Michelangelo’s David has no need to see anything else by another sculptor, living or dead.” (Giorgio Vasari)

“I am still learning.” (Michelangelo)

Esoterica: Artists today may not need to share the same concerns of archival longevity with the geniuses of the Renaissance. Climate scientists warn that we won’t likely reach the end of our current century with a habitable planet. Studying the pastel pale muse of Botticelli’s Birth of Venus at the nearby Uffizi Gallery, I zoom in to confirm she’s not a poster from the wall of an old college dorm — her sea foam and scallop shell imagery is so familiar and her invisible brushwork as flat as a sheet of masonite. The selfie-takers step up to the alarm line to add her to their hoards of digital greatest hits, while Venus’ real-time vibes still pulse silently for conversation with the ocean-crossers and art pilgrims who are more fully present. “My soul can find no staircase to heaven unless it be through earth’s loveliness.” (Michelangelo)


Download the new audio book, The Letters: Vol. 1 and 2, narrated by Dave Genn, here. Proceeds of sales contribute to the production of The Painter’s Keys.

“As when, O lady mine! /With chiselled touch /The stone unhewn and cold / Becomes a living mould. / The more the marble wastes, / The more the statue grows.” (Michelangelo)



  1. Thank you for the reality check. Comparing my work to Michelangelo is like measuring the Universe with a yardstick. It can’t be done!!! However, I can add all the love possible into my efforts and keep on keepin’ on!

  2. Having seen ‘David’ in person while visiting Italy some years ago, I have to agree with Giorgio Vasari, after standing before this incredible creation, one really doesn’t NEED to see any other sculpture! However, needing and WANTING are two different matters, so I highly recommend also seeing the numerous ‘Pieta’ sculptures in Europe. One can truly feel the sorrow and pain of the Blessed Mother and Jesus as one would imagine.
    Any artist is truly humbled by all of these magnificent works!

  3. I also visited Rome and David and can state that I wasn’t bowled over. “Pieta” and “Moses” however did the trick. For diversity, you could throw in the Sistine Chapel and St. Peters. But to measure Michelangelo is to measure Rome itself. He was one spectacular artist and deserves the adoration that he is given for whatever he has touched.

    • Meditating at the intensity of David’s face .. I turned to the source of Michelangelo’s inspiration.. I wanted to know what the young man was he seeing? Thinking..Hearing? Why was he there, on the front line of the battle? Stepping forward!

      What was it about?. And, what kept him there, feet firmly planted.. amazingly sure of his mission, which was.. taking down this 9 & a half foot, rude ‘n crude.. burly bully, wearing a copper helmit & a suit of mail “of overlapping scales..that weighed about 125 pounds..” What was the threat?.. and Why, did he feel so confident to step out in front? his shepherds clothing..with only his slingshot & 5 smooth stones.

      This teenager, the ‘baby’ of 8 sons..who Goliath threatens & humiliates..seeing him as just a “ruddy handsome boy” (1 Samuel 17… vs 41-44) became the inspiration..the focus of the very young & driven sculptor.

      When we see these great, enduring works of the masters..we’re stirred by these ‘stories’..

      For me, the obviously long-lasting effects on the hearts and minds of people, even in this age of superficiality & distraction.. are worthy of revisiting. They show depth of thought & dedication, thereby, continuing to inspire creatives.. as seen today in the media, in the world’s best museums.. & of course, Italia! One can still.. “tap the source”.. The old book, is worth a look.

  4. I think the idea that we won’t last out the century with a habitable planet is defeatist in the extreme. It is wrong to have that “give-up” attitude. We have serious problems, yes. We have to find a way to MAKE the nay-sayers and the climate-change-deniers start operating sustainably, yes. We MUST do that. It’s never too late. We have to keep trying, and not give up. It’s too easy to give up. Alva Myrdal, winner of the 1982 Nobel Peace Prize said, “I have, despite all disillusionment, never, ever, allowed myself to feel like giving up. This is my message today: IT IS NOT WORTHY OF A HUMAN BEING TO GIVE UP.” (Sorry for the “shouting” but I feel that strongly about that issue. “Never give up the ship”.)

    • I agree, and feel that thought was tossed in there in an offhanded way as if it wasn’t the momentous statement that it is. Let’s get positive!

    • I’m glad someone said it before I did. Even the most rabid climate change theorists who predict a one meter or so rise in sea levels are not calling for the end of the world. Indeed it’s up to all of us to act responsibly but let’s also speak responsibly.

  5. Carolyn crampton on

    If humanity were to disappear, and I agree that things on earth will get dicey…soon…, I can’t think of a better relic to leave behind.

  6. “Artists today may not need to share the same concerns of archival longevity with the geniuses of the Renaissance. Climate scientists warn that we won’t likely reach the end of our current century with a habitable planet. ” I’ve been thinking about this. As artists, we thought we knew how to live forever. Sure, we’ll die, but our work (we hope) will live forever. Maybe not. And if it does, will there be anyone left to see it? …

    … Round the decay
    Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
    The lone and level sands stretch far away.
    (from “Ozimandias” by Shelley)

    Ironically though, even such thoughts can inspire new work, transient though it may be!

  7. “What can be?” Sara’s dad used to encourage us to ask as we approach any creative work/play. Imagination drives each of us to “show up” at the easel (first rule of success) and bring our heart to the task. It took 14 billion years to get us here and we are the first generation to know this story of the universe. What can be now includes the potential of a virtual end of the human project. Formerly, the thought of one’s own death was enough to move us “off the dime” and maximize our creative energy. Today we must find the Michelangelo within and keep hope alive against all odds for a sustainable future, the one where Beauty supports everyone to be what they can be.

  8. Visitors to the Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota FL can see a full-size copy of David in bronze in an outdoor setting.

  9. I wonder what this generation wants to pass off as art? The present day teachers seem to think that freedom is equivalent to an ink splatter. As Salvador Dali stated “Drawing is the honesty of the art. There is no possibility of cheating. It is either good or it is bad” But today we participate in a world that wants to give all comers a similar high rating and avoid not acceptable. I’m sure this generation will in general go down in history as a bad attempt to potray the ideals that couldn’t or wouldn’t understand Michelangelo because nothing of what he cherished remains in the school of art unless you let your mind be the creator for the attempted failures held out as an item of worth based on the proof of the pudding being a sale even if it has to be fake. Nothing seems to be left in the stroke to identify brilliance. Brilliance is a result not an attempt! It is something that reveals there is something in general where the preponderance of non-artists would come to a consensus using their sensory ability. Eddie Walsh

  10. Hi;

    What a beautiful reminder. Michelangelo saying he was still learning. When I first saw the David
    statue I was amazed by its beauty.

    Now, older and maybe wiser…I feel abashed by the paucity of my skills. Yet also encouraged to
    keep trying.

    Nancy Butler

  11. Pingback: The big inspiration and greatest motivation story of David and Goliath’s reflection at art – heureuse à en mourir

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Featured Workshop

February 14, 2018 to February 28, 2018

mexico-pleinairTake a winter break! Join me, Hermann Brandt for one or both of these retreat/workshops in sunny Mexico.

Casa Buena is a gorgeous art retreat center, right on the ocean. Jane Romanishko is a fabulous host and goes above and beyond to make sure you have a fantastic time. Included: Most art materials, meals, accommodation, a jungle-river boat trip and several sightseeing ventures. For beginner to intermediate level artists. Figure drawing (Feb 14-21) – from life; nude model. Plein air (Feb 21-28) – beach scenes, fishing villages and surrounding hills. I look forward to sharing a time of fun and learning. series #1
Oil on canvas with pyrite and amethyst
48 x 48"/122x122cm

Featured Artist

Candace studied at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Angers, France but it is her travels in the deserts of Africa and Oman, Antarctica and the Arctic, and sacred sights of Machu Picchu and Petra that serve as her true place of learning. A desire to combine these experiences with a deeper understanding of her own spirituality has provided the underlying focus and inspiration for her paintings.