Thursday, May 2, 2013

The Statues on Broad Street

It's funny, before I sat down to write this, I hadn't realized that the topic of statues is one that I've written about frequently. I'm not entirely sure why, but it has served to be a recurring theme on this blog.

Statues, both real and imagined.

The entry I wrote last winter about the Rocky statue, a sculpture built to honor a heroic Philadelphian underdog who never existed. And the outrage I felt towards a City that turns a movie character into a tourist attraction, and turns it's back on the real underdogs who live in it.  These men, women, and way too many children who don't fight Heavyweight Champions, Russians, or Mr. T, but fight a gross and unjust poverty.

Or the entry about the statues I run by. The statues that line the route of my regular six mile loop. The statues that talk, eat, and sleep. These men and women, who sleep on steam vents, and in doorways. These real men and women, who are alive, but like statues, never seem to move.

The irony of all of this is that, despite this recurring theme of statues, I'm not exactly what you'd call an "art person".

With the exception of spelling tests, nothing has caused me to "fake it" more than discussing or viewing the many forms of art. I mean, don't get me wrong, I do have an appreciation for sculpture, paintings, etc., but it's really more of an appreciation for others appreciation.

But while I can't say I'm a huge fan of art work, I am a sucker for a good story... even if it is a story about art.

Which brings me to the statue of David.

The statue of David, I would have to imagine, would rank as one of the world's most recognizable sculptures. It's white, marble frame is known the world over for it's example of fine art and craftsmanship. It's likeness, has been shown and reproduced, so that even if you've never witnessed it first hand, you can still close your eyes and picture it.

And despite it's beauty, whether it's fact or legend... I have to say, I like the story the better.

In 1464 the City of Florence commissioned the construction of a statue of David (Yes, that David, as in the one who slayed Goliath). This statue was to go along side a series of other Biblical figures set to line the rooftops of the Florence Cathedral.

The counsel sought the advice of the legendary Donatello, as to who should be selected to carve the sculpture. As the story goes, Donatello responded instantly, stating that there was only one man for the job.

Agostino di Duccio.

That's right, not only was Michaelangelo not the first choice to begin sculpting the statue, but at the time of it's commission, he was not even born... keep reading.

Work did not exactly move quickly on David. The counsel had purchased a rather cheap block of marble from a nearby town, and had it transported to Florence. Upon it's arrival Agostino remarked that such cheap material could never produce a great sculpture. He took his time getting started, and after the death of Donatello, abruptly left the project, having only begun to craft the legs. Another artist was chosen to replace him, but no more progress was made on David.

For 25 years this block of uncarved marble lay dorment. For 25 years, it laid on it's side, exposed to the elements as it lay in wait in the open air of the Cathedral's courtyard. For 25 years it lay forgotten, with only a whisper of a name to hold it's place in this world.

And there it stayed, until a new group of counsel members became to determined to finish the work. They ordered the block of marble raised to it's feet, and sought to hire an artist who could bring it to life.

Michaelangelo was 26 when he was hired, years younger than many of the other candidates vying to earn the commission. And on the morning of September 13th, 1501, Michaelangelo began sculpting the statue of David.

And a little over two years later, it was completed.

Some two years later, this once discarded block of cheap marble became the most famous statue in the world. This forgotten block of marble, left abandoned without care became the one of the most celebrated works on earth.

And I think about this.

This weekend, for those who don't know, is Philadelphia's Broad Street Run, a ten mile race down the center of the City. It will be the fourth time I'll line up to pace a teammate of mine from Back on My Feet Philadelphia. And while I would love to tell you about the individual with whom I'll be running, respect for his wishes to remain anonymous will preclude me from doing so. But that won't stop me from telling you about what he is not, and a little about what I believe he is.

The man I'll be running with doesn't look a whole lot like David. He's not chiseled from marble. His arms and chest bear little resemblance to David's defined muscles. His legs lack the steadfast stance, that hold the Biblical hero up in the face of Goliath sized odds.

No, at first glance, the man I'll be running with looks less like David, and rather more like that weathered block of marble.

But looks can be deceiving.

Cause you see, there's one last piece to this story of the David statue. Because, as the legend goes, Michaelangelo, upon completion, was asking how he was able to create such a beautiful statue.

His answer was surprising.

When asked how he created David, he responded by saying he didn't.

He said he didn't create David from the block of marble. He simply removed the marble around the David that already existed inside of it. 

"I saw an angel in the marble, and carved until I set him free"

And I think about this.

I think about what this says about all of us.

That no matter how weathered our outsides. No matter the quality of our exterior. No matter how long we've been left to waste away.

No matter how broken, neglected, or injured our persons may be, that there is something inside of us, an angel that has never been touched by these external evils. That no matter how deeply it's been covered over, deep down, it's there. And that in each of us there exists an inherent beauty that is merely waiting to be released.

And though the man I'll line up along side on Sunday may display this weathered exterior, the truth is that maybe I do too, maybe we all do. And that maybe the true beauty of Back on My Feet is this chance we give each other to shed another layer of that exterior to get closer to that angel in each of us.

This blog is dedicated to the many Michaelangelos in my life, who never cease to see the angels in all of us.

Happy Broad Street!

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