David by Michelangelo: The Work and the Glory of God

My husband and I went on my dream vacation to Italy. In high school I took two years of Art History and since then have wanted to visit Italy, especially, Florence, the birthplace of the Renaissance. The experience was better than I imagined.

Much of Renaissance art was commissioned by the Medici family and Catholic popes. Although the Medicis and popes were the means for so much great art and architecture, many of them were greedy and immoral. Before I went I wondered how inspiring art could be a product of greed and immorality, and I wondered how I would feel seeing religious buildings and events depicted that differed from my beliefs as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Some of my friends asked if I was uncomfortable seeing nude sculptures and painting. I’m not. I don’t know if that is because I became de-sensitized from studying art history in high school or because sculpture and paintings of the time glorified the human body but not in a scandalizing way (at least not in comparison to today’s objectification of the body).

In Italy I was in awe of all the art and architecture I saw, but the most touching and inspiring experience was the statue of David by Michelangelo created between 1501-1504. Our tour guide said that Donatello’s David, created sometime between 1440-1460, depicted David as a young boy of fourteen years old after killing Goliath. We don’t know the exact age of David when he fought the giant, Goliath, but the Biblical record indicates that he was young. “And when the Philistine looked about, and saw David, he disdained him: for he was but a youth, and ruddy, and of a fair countenance” (1 Samuel 17:42). Instead of creating a young adolescent as Donatello did, Michelangelo created David as a young man at the prime of physical beauty and stature. David is in the moment of decision, the sling behind his back, the rock in his hand. He knew he could do all things in the Lord. “Then said David to the Philistine, Thou comest to me with a sword, and with a spear, and with a shield: but I come to thee in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom thou has defied. This day will the Lord deliver thee into mine hand…that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel” (1 Samuel 17:45-46). God saw David, not as a wimpy fourteen year-old boy, but as the man who would do God’s work.

In the book of Moses, an extract from the translation of the Bible as revealed to Joseph Smith, the Lord God appeared to Moses and taught, “For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39). We are each God’s work and glory. He sees our potential. We are children of God–strong and capable of doing God’s work “through Christ, which strenghteneth [us]” (Philippians 4:13).

After my visit to Italy I had an experience that confirmed the thoughts of my heart as I beheld the magnificent works of art there. I was listening to a podcast on the newly published history of the church, Saints: The Story of the Church of Jesus Christ in the Latter Days and learned about Joseph Smith’s thoughts from his visit to New York in 1832. From a letter to his wife, Emma, Joseph said, “This day I have been walking through the most splendid part of the city of New York—the buildings are truly great and wonderful to the astonishing of every beholder and the language of my heart is like this. Can the great God of all the Earth, maker of all things magnificent and splendid be displeased with man for all these great inventions sought out by them? My answer is not. It cannot be, seeing these works are calculated to make men comfortable, wise, and happy. Therefore not for the works can the Lord be displeased. Only against man is the anger of the Lord kindled because they give him not the glory” (Joseph Smith Papers, 13 October 1832 letter from Joseph Smith to Emma Smith. Punctuation modernized).

Inspiring, beautiful art exists. We can be a part of that creation and of God’s great work as we like David let God’s power work in us and acknowledge the source of that power: “In all thy ways acknowledge him and he shall direct thy paths” (Proverbs 3:6).