Upon seeing Michelangelo’s David, the acclaimed art critic and historian Giorgio Vasari said, “nor has there ever been a pose so fluent, or a gracefulness equal to this, or feet, hands, and head so well related to each other with quality, skill, and design.” Although I’m no art historian, I have to agree with him in that statement.
When I first turned the corner and saw the David down the hall, I couldn’t help but stare. Everything about it just drew me in. The pose, the exactness, the size, and the emotion that this sculpture produces are rivaled by nothing I’ve ever seen before. I found myself staring for nearly half an hour, just gawking at such physical and artistic brilliance. One man, with no prior planning or sketches, created sculptural perfection just from the artistic genius of his own mind. The best part is that this is just a small part of the genius that Florence has been able to offer the world.
In the 1200’s, one man’s literary genius forever changed man’s view of Hell, creating not only a gruesomely powerful poetic masterpiece, but also being the first to reach out to the people of Italy by writing in the vernacular. His haunting tale revitalized church attendance, as many now came to fear Hell due to the images he created with his words. This man, Dante Alighieri, was raised in Florence, taught and stimulated in Florence, and now is the crown jewel of literature in Florence.
One man, considered the true “Renaissance Man,” became a master artist, innovator, and scientist in Florence. His paintings still line the walls of famous art museums, his discovery in the world of anatomy and medicine still influences modern scientists, and his inventions and visions from hundreds of years ago are things that were only made practical within the last few decades. This man, the famous Leonardo Da Vinci, studied in Florence, designed in Florence, and dreamt of what the human mind could conceive and create in Florence.
Joining these truly remarkable geniuses in the list of those influenced creatively by Florence are Donatello, Machiavelli, Caravaggio, Brunelleschi, Boccaccio, Galileo, and so many more. The spark of creation was alive and well within the city of Florence for around 5 centuries, including when it began and centered the Italian Renaissance, arguably the most important era in human history. But how could one city create the conditions in which so much brilliance can could exist? The answer is simple: the city truly valued creativity.
The Medici family controlled Florence for hundreds of years, and they had wealth and influence that is almost difficult to fathom. Without the Medici, Florence would never have created the amazing things it did. Their patronage allowed for hundreds of creative minds to make art and use their talents to make things that people marvel at still today. This value in art also opened the possibility for all the people of Florence to love and enjoy creativity, fostering an environment in which not only art could be created, but one in which the human mind could be expanded and used to create and discover things about the world around it.
At a time when people have lost a sense of the value of art, arts funding in schools is being cut, and the National Endowment for the Arts is being threatened with dismemberment, we must look to a city like Florence. As humans, we all have that spark of creation within us. It’s that little voice inside that makes us long for something better, and that won’t let us rest unless that something better is of our own creation. The reason this spark became a flame in Florence was because artistry, something that requires a high level of the need to create, was valued and funded.
This art allowed Da Vinci to expand his mind, eventually revolutionizing science as much as art. It allowed Galileo to dream of the possibilities of physics, bringing him to learn more about how our world works and create machines to measure and demonstrate his discovery. Even if art doesn’t directly solve medical issues or design better machinery, it is very evident that creativity in any form breeds creativity in every form. If it worked for the city that incited the rebirth of knowledge and creation after centuries upon centuries of darkness and blindness, who are we to deny its methods?