Oh, the Places You'll Go -- Studying Abroad
Photo: Ann Mallick.
By Ann Mallick
October 18, 2011
The main hall of the Galleria dell’Accademia in Florence, Italy has but one purpose: to showcase the most exhibited sculpture in the world, Michelangelo’s David. A visitor to the Gallery enters the well-lit hall to see David at the end, resplendent in the cold yet transient marble of the High Renaissance.
Bypassing the other works of Michelangelo that line the hallway—another day, perhaps—the viewer walks, entranced, to stop with the other thirty or so visitors who have crowded around its base to bask in its splendor.
My initial impressions of David are of his veins. Straining out of his hand in order to keep the sling from falling, they pop out like tiny rivulets, coursing down his forearm until they reach his knuckles. Although the David is at rest, his arm is perpetually tensed in preparation. The position of his hand is not a natural formation; one would not be able to rest their hands comfortably in such a shape for long. Thus, his veins pulsate out of the century-old marble, his skin pulled tight to expose the frighteningly human muscle encased in stone.
These are not the thin, soft hands of an artist, but the rough, callused tools of a fighter. Perhaps hands that, though young, have the capability of slaying the giant Goliath? Michelangelo convinces me on the spot: as handsome as David is, he is no helpless child.
His hands alone convey the strength one sees everywhere about him. His thumbs are brutish, thick fingers with a flat tip so that even David’s thumbnail exhibits his strong and determined nature. To look at David’s thumb, that might be enough, for all the power of his entire story might be drawn from the detail Michelangelo chiseled into this marble digit.
We move up the statue and follow David’s musculature to his stomach and ribs. I can count his ribs, and can see the cuts down his stomach that indicate his abdominal muscles. His collarbones are softer than I might have thought: they do not jut out of his body in the way his hand and arm veins do.
His neck muscles do, however, and the viewer can clearly see a concave indenture at the bottom center of his neck. I am not surprised by the neck muscles: pulled tense, they scream of the unspoken choice David has chosen to make, before he has the strength to say it.
David’s face dons an expression that I cannot fully place. He looks away, at what I do not know, but looks at whatever it is with neither fear nor confidence. My favorite feature of his face, therefore, must be his cheeks: they do not jut inward like the chiseled cheekbones of an adult.
Rather, they are rounder and fuller than I would imagine, and it is only in his cheeks that I can identify him solidly as a boy, not a man. His stance would come off as arrogant and disdainful, if not for those round and childish cheeks.
There is a feeling that permeates the David’s hall, one that halts every visitor and commands their eyes upward. The lonely viewer stops, transfixed, at the base of the statue to marvel with the others who have come to share in the moment.
The exhaustion of modernity falls away before the David, and one is left with a sense of rejuvenation, an enchantment in the world of today that is so often left by the wayside. This shared moment of transformation brings everyone who stands before this masterpiece of art together in the human experience.
I stood before the David and I felt it, and I would warrant a guess that anyone who has had the opportunity to do so has felt at least a sliver of the same. These moments of commonality, regardless of location or ethnicity, exhibited by the history of peoples past, are precisely the reason I chose to go abroad.
As a college student, I had the choice to spend the semester broadening my view of the world, while also challenging myself to explore histories that I may never have a chance to study again. Overall, however, I appreciate my time in Italy thus far for its constant reminders that life retains enchantment.
The ancient city streets of Pompeii, the quiet murmurs of the canals of Venice, the raw power of the waves that crash at the base of Cinqueterre—all these places hold their own magic against time. Wherever your interests lie, the opportunity to go abroad as a student only happens once in a lifetime. And in my experience, the chance to rediscover this enchantment in the modern world is one plunge worth taking.