Grandeur can illuminate the sky with lightning, openly visible to thousands of people, but sometimes it tiptoes by us and sometimes hides. We have to search or let it surprise us. The shimmering colors on the scales of a fish. The glint of gold in a human eye. But mostly, we ought to remember who made it so.
They say Michelangelo “discovered” the wonder of David hiding in a rejected block of marble and set him free. Had David hidden because of his nakedness? But he stands powerful and sure of himself, not ashamed like some ancient Adam. This masterpiece, resting cooly in the Galleria dell'Accademia in Florence, Italy, hides no longer. My friend and I found him surrounded by tourists and cameras. But David is a silent celebrity, camera shy. The blaring announcements every few moments emphatically prohibited photography, and docents paced the floor, wagging their fingers at anyone removing a lens cap. We didn't risk the photos, unlike the rebellious guy to our left. He cradled a camera in his palm, holding it nonchalantly by his side, and swiftly snapped a photo while he gazed in the other direction. Just outside the doors people peddled postcards, T-shirts, and even small figurines of David, picture perfect down to the precious details. Could a haphazard photo capture the wonder of David better than such quality merchandise? Could it capture the grandeur?
My compact point and shoot had always been at the ready to preserve memories of travel abroad, but in the galleria a pencil and a piece of paper seemed more appropriate–and legal. So I drew David, more to amuse my friend than anything. In quick sketch I copied the shadows, the turns. Eleven years later my friend still has the picture. It causes her to laugh. Laugh over my attention to detail, laugh about the stories of our trip together. We don't have a photograph of the real David and we didn't buy any tourist trinkets, but we have a little bit of him that no one else can ever have.
Around the city, the tourists flowed with the heat wave from one masterpiece to another. Almost every person we walked by was a tourist with a camera slung around her neck. (Yep, I was also guilty). One day we visited Michelangelo’s final resting place and cameras flashed there, too. In Paris, the Mona Lisa had hidden behind video cameras and the backs of many heads. She still smiled. Most people fought their way to the front of the crowd only to snap their photo and move on to the next work of art. How many took time to really see her?
Italy blooms with other beautiful creations, including more Davids. Two (I think now three) replicas exist in Florence and anyone may photograph them. I admit that I did, so what is so special about the real one? Are the others not beautiful, too? Maybe the real David isn't even there anymore. Maybe he watches behind one of those transparent mirrors, or perhaps he got disgusted with all the illegal camera flashes and long ago caught the train to Rome, eager to blend in as a tourist himself. Imagine David walking along with a camera. What beauty would he choose to photograph?
I wonder: Is a statue beautiful? A painting? A building? Aren’t they just interpretations of the real beauty that we cannot contain? In the case of David, are we truly in awe of him or the ability of his creator? When the lightning cracks and the sunset bleeds through the sky; when the bird hops by our feet and the baby's hand curls around our finger; do we appreciate the maker of all grandeur?
by Gerard Manley Hopkins
The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man's smudge and shares man's smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs--
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.