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Michelangelo’s David and Durer’s Fall of Man, Essay Example

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Michelangelo’s David (1504) and Durer’s Fall of Man (1509) are archetypical examples of the Renaissance style. In the case of Michelangelo his work falls within the specific Renaissance sub-genre of the Italian Renaissance, whereas Durer’s piece belongs to the so-called Northern Renaissance. Although David is a sculpture and Fall of Man is an engraving, both works evince some of the fundamental characteristics of the Renaissance, above all exemplified in the synthesis of faithful and accurate depictions of the human body in conjunction with idealized portrayals of the human form. A difference, however, may be detected in Durer’s overall darker imagery, which suggests a deeper balance of pagan and Christian motifs that exist at the heart of the Renaissance movement.

In the case of Michelaneglo’s David, there is a clear commitment to attempting to accurately portray the human body. This commitment is above all a commitment to the body in an idealized and mythical form, however one that is realistic at the same time to the extent that it shows the potentiality of the human body. This potentiality is closely related to what may be termed the aesthetic value Michelangelo confers to the human body, a value that can be distinguished from previous examples of Christian religious art, insofar as the beauty of the material world is emphasized in Michelangelo’s work. Hence, whereas Greek and Roman art gave much attention to presenting beautiful renditions of the human form, the Christian artistic tradition can be said to have attempted to emphasize transcendence over the immanence of the material. With his subject of David, Michelangelo basically synthesizes these two ideas, as David is a classically biblical figure, and thus, at the time, was considered entirely separate from the mythical paganism of the Ancient Greek and Roman worlds. Micheangelo’s David can thus be considered to be a radically European work of art, as he combines two of the great cultural strains of Europe, the classical Greco-Roman tradition and the Christian tradition into a singular work of art.

Durer’s Fall of Man mirrors this same approach. The depictions of the human body and its emphasis on its aesthetic beauty are clearly in line with the same tradition of Greco-Roman art that Michelangelo was also dedicated to. Human bodies in their material forms are themselves exemplary of what may be considered to be beautiful. At the same time, Durer also demonstrates a fidelity to the Christian tradition by taking these Greco-Roman motifs and placing them within a biblical context, thus portraying the biblical account of the Fall and the mistakes of Adam and Eve. Greco-Roman attentiveness to the aesthetic value of the body is thereby combined to a Christian content to yield Durer’s engraving.

These basic conceptual approaches show the symmetry of the two artists. They value a Greco-Roman aesthetic in regards to the body, while also showing an interest in Biblical themes. However, within this shared framework these two works can also be said to radically differ. Michelangelo’s David could essentially represent any classical mythological figure: there is nothing that particularly distinguishes the sculpture and alludes to its Christian context. Thus, the sculpture could easily also corresponded to a royal figure, and thus be viewed entirely independent of any Christian norms. On the other hand, Durer’s work clearly commits to the Fall of Man as theme, and this arguably leads to the darkness of the image. In other words, Durer combines Christian mysticism and its emphasis on other-worldly and dark transcendences with Greco-Roman artistic representations of the body to construct his work. In this regard, the beauty of the body is contrasted with the corruption indicated in the Fall. In his Fall of Man, following the positivity of the human body and the negativity of the decisions of man, Durer can be said to more effectively combine two of the guiding threads of European tradition: the Greco-Roman and the Christian.

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