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Video transcript

[Music] so let's talk about manners sculpture okay when we're talking about man or a sculpture one thing to keep in mind is that it shares the same basic characteristics as manners painting that we've already discussed so elegance complexity the more enigmatic and puzzling it is the better complicated extreme sense of sophistication and gracefulness and a demonstration of the artists skill and a great example of that is benvenuto Shalini's bronze sculpture of Perseus from about fifteen forty five to fifteen fifty four and is located in its original location where it was made for the Piazza della Signoria the loggia just to the right of the town hall if you're facing its entrance it's an important location it's very important location in its location is a very important part of its meaning which we'll talk about so commissioned this this is for Duke Cosimo the first Cosimo de'medici who was the first really great powerful of the Medici Dukes who rules 16th century Florence he comes to power in the 1530s and rules up and towards the end of the century so the first thing we should talk about is what the subject matter is we'll come back to it again but generally this is a sculpture of Perseus and Perseus is a figure from Greek and Roman mythology he is the hero in a way a regular guy who defeats the Gorgon monster Medusa Medusa is the terrible sorceress who's so ugly and a snakes for hair that when you look at her you turn to stone because she's so terrible looking and this was not the way she was born she was originally very beautiful and seductive but she tried to seduce Zeus and so Zeus is wife Hera puts this curse on her that makes her so ugly that if she anyone looks at her and they turned to stone Athena gives him a shield that's very very highly polished like a mirror of the god mercury or Hermes gave him his winged hat and winged sandals that allows him to fly and so when he goes to fight Medusa he holds the shield up she looks at her own reflection she turns to stone and still while he's not looking at her he reaches out with a sword and slices her head off he beheads her but he quickly puts her head in a bag because even when she's dead she can turn people to stone and then he flies off to fight another months and he pulls Medusa's head out of the bag and defeats that other beast as well and we see all of these things in the sculpture we'll come back to them again so Perseus is really blessed he's held by the gods he's got the winged sandals here he's got the winged helmet here this of course is Medusa's decapitated head here is her body spurting blood the story of this particular sculpture that is that shalini had been working in France for King Francis the first but then it comes back to his hometown of Florence where Cosimo de'medici is the Duke and there are several different versions of the story and basically the story is that shalini approaches the Duke and says I have a great project that you're going to want to fund and have me make and he shows the Duke sketches and models made out of clay and wax of this figure and the Duke likes the subject matter a lot but the Duke thinks of himself as an artistic connoisseur and so he says to Chile neat I like this idea but it's never gonna work it's gonna topple over more importantly the Duke says is that the bronze casting is never going to be successful because essentially the way that bronze is made if that you have an inner mold of clay an outer mold of clay and then what's in between there is wax the in the design of what you want your finished sculpture to be and then what you do is you pour hot molten bronze and everywhere the wax was which floods out the bronze then goes and after the bronze cools off you then break the outer mold and there essentially is your bronze sculpture when the Duke looks at chily knees designs he said this is never going to work because you have so many things sticking out in different directions the arm the sword the hands the feet that the bronze is not going to flow fast enough to all of these places that it needs to fill and so when you break open the mold you're gonna find that the cast is incomplete so chily knee listens to these arguments and he says essentially to the duke i am such an expert I'm such a good sculptor I can pull it off you just need to trust me and so the Duke says okay you can go ahead but I'm warning you you're going to humiliate yourself and chilly knee gets to work he prepares the mold he prepares everything the way it needs to be done and he starts pouring the molten bronze into the mold but he quickly realizes that the Duke was right the bronze is not blowing fast enough to fill up the whole mold and so it needs to be hotter what he does is he instructs all of his assistants and servants to break all of the wood furniture in his house and throw it on the fire so the fire will burn hotter and the bronze will run smoother and faster and they do that and that works but it's still not fast enough and so they throw in some silverware and other kinds of pewter things that he has lying around the house because if you add that to the bronze mixture that also makes it more liquidy and then they wait with bated breath for the whole thing to cool off and they break it open and there's the whole sculpture complete he did it it's a miracle that it was able to cast it without any flaws he claims no missing parts like the Duke had said would happen and then it needs to be finished off and then also once it's installed in the pedestal it does in fact stand very firmly without toppling over bronze casting had been a lost art for the whole Middle Ages and things of this complexity certainly without thinking about what the subject matter is without thinking about how it relates to its surroundings part of the meaning of this work of art is convenien is a great sculptor in other words that's practically the subject matter is that he was able to accomplish what was said to be impossible and this makes it Mannerist it is a statement of the artists skill at taking on an artistic amazing virtuosity and that virtuosity is not just in a casting but it's also in the finishing of this surface which is incredibly well polished and has a tremendous amount of detail of course it's also Mannerist because of the rather live elegant athletic slim form that corresponds to the dominant aesthetic of the time but again it's this issue of the artists skill that's foregrounded that that makes this in part so important another part of this sculpture that's so important is how it relates to its setting and like I said this is in front of the Town Hall in front of the Palazzo della signoria where at the time there were already several other sculptures as we can see in this photo which is sort of taken from the point of view of where the Perseus is located in other words this seems to be what Perseus is looking at exactly one of the things that stood there is Michelangelo's David where a replica stands in the original location Michelangelo's David here and then also this figure of Hercules that was installed some years later both of these figures Michelangelo's David and this figure of Hercules by Ben dinelli were symbols of the Republic of Florence David who defeats the stronger beast Goliath was seen as a symbol of the Republic from even the beginning of the 1400s because it was a symbol of how the good and the weak can defeat the strong if God is on their side and Hercules too in some ways functioned in that role because Hercules was also a symbol of the Republic the hero who with the help of gods is able to defeat stronger enemies these are both symbols of Florence as a democracy whose power is in the hands of the citizens of Florence we need to understand the Perseus figure and its Commission in this location in that kind of historical context because when we think of the Perseus standing here holding up that head of Medusa what of course does it look like has happened here it looks like it's turned David to stone it's exactly this symbol of the Republic exactly so it looks as if especially Michelangelo's David is looking right at Shalini's Perseus and the head of Medusa and there's a suggestion that Hercules is as well and that because they're looking at this head of Medusa that's being held up by the triumphant hero that they have turned to stone and so the kind of tricky almost humorous but very sophisticated and hence typically Mannerist illusion is that the Medici with their sculpture of Perseus have turned these figures representing the Republic into stone and have defeated their enemies once again you know it's funny because I think we tend to look at these sculptures as images of beautiful figures during the Renaissance and we forget this political meaning behind them absolutely and we need to understand their historical context their locations all of this helps us understand what they are but in the end they still are also very beautiful objects and that's another way to understand why these viewers Hercules and David have turned to stone because it was a rather common rhetoric to say that an object could be so beautiful that it takes your breath away it stops you in your tracks it petrifies the viewer the viewer can be slain by beauty and so that maybe that's another meaning of these figures turning to stone and they're so astonished by his skill and his mastery as and just that they are turned to stone in astonishment you