Sure, absolute perfection is astonishing but it is also a little bit boring. Over the last few months, I have seen plenty of “perfect” masterpieces here in Florence, and I have noticed that even though I appreciate perfection, I am much more enthralled by imperfections. This applies especially when it comes to marble sculptures here in Florence. By the way, if you have a low saturation point when it comes to white marble sculptures and/or busts, you will get your fill VERY quickly here. White marble definitely dominates many of the rooms of museums as well as churches and chapels (closely followed by depictions of Mary with gold leaf and bronze statues).
When one thinks of perfection in connection with white marble, Michelangelo’s David most likely comes to mind. And you might wonder, “So what about the David; isn’t he perfect and isn’t he beautiful?!” Yes, the sculpture is absolutely breathtaking ( so much so that it seems odd to use the lifeless pronoun “it” and not the more human “he”). And no, none of the replicas can do the original justice as it seems to be alive with visible tendons and even blood vessels.
Michelangelo’s David in Galleria dell’ Accademia
And even with this sculpture that many would see as the perfect illustration for perfection, it is the imperfections that fascinate me. There are, for example, the mangled toes of his left foot when Piero Cannata struck the statue with a hammer in 1991 (read more about it here).
David’s Foot that Was Damaged
Also often overlooked but fascinating are the initials MN that are engraved on the right calf. The guide mentioned the story behind it, but I am not clear about the details anymore and online sites do not mention this much.
If you look carefully, you will see the letters “MN” carved into the the right calf of the original David by Michelangelo in Galleria dell’ Accademia
Even though Michelangelo’s David dominates the Galleria dell’ Accademia in Florence, the unfinished pieces by Michelangelo in the same museum are to a certain degree even more intriguing because they are unfinished and thus also not perfect. The opposition of rough and unfinished stone versus the smooth sculpture emerging creates beauty and fascination.
Another unfinished Prisoner by Michelangelo in Galleria dell’ Accademia
Michelangelo’s Unfinished Saint Matthew in Galleria dell’ Accademia
Michelangelo’s Unfinished Prisoner
Another exhibition in Florence, however, highlights the beauty and draw of imperfections even more. This exhibition is the collection of marble Roman busts in Palazzo Medici Riccardi. Since the busts are mostly from the second century, they are often slightly damaged. Many of them are missing the nose, but I find them even more fascinating because of that. For example, Emperor Caracalla appears more volatile and dangerous because his bust is missing the nose. The profile is rather intriguing without the complete nose.
Bust of Roman Emperor Caracalla in Palazzo Medici Riccardi
Profile of the Bust of Caracalla in Palazzo Medici Riccardi in Florence
Marble Head of a Roman Deity (120-130 CE) in Palazzo Medici Riccardi
Idealized Bust (2nd century CE) in Palazzo Medici Riccardi
Even the Riaccardi Athlete beguiles because of its imperfections. At first glance, it seems to depict an idealized and perfect human, but a closer look reveals not only amazing details such as the hint of teeth behind slightly parted lips (it seems that marble is actually flesh that could move at any moment) but also little nicks and faults.
Bust of Young Athlete from the Second Century CE in Palazzo Medici Riccardi
Another View of the Bust of a Young Athlete
Close-up of the Bust of a Young Athlete in Palazzo Medici Riccardi
If you are in Florence, do not forget to check out the slight imperfections of David in the Accademia (see this website for more details) and do not overlook the marble Roman busts in Palazzo Medici Riccardi – even though this palazzo is more famous for its Chapel of Magi (see this website for more details on the palazzo).