Michelangelo’s masterpiece, David, is enshrined at the Galleria dell’Accademia in Florence, Italy. Thousands of tourists wait for hours every day to get a glimpse.
But, many of them hardly notice the series of unfinished sculptures that line the corridor on the way to David. Like petrified prisoners, their forms are identifiable — a hand here, a torso there, a protruding leg or part of a head.
The statues were intended to adorn the tomb of Pope Julius II, but they are not finished. It’s almost as if these sculptures are trying to break free and become what they were intended to be, but they are stuck in stone.
Michelangelo called them “captives.” They are captives precisely because they did not receive enough “chiseling” from the master.
In His first sermon, Jesus stated His mission, in no uncertain terms, was to set captives free.
We tend to think of that statement in judicial terms, that salvation is like our get out of jail free card, but it’s much more than that. Maybe we should think of that statement in artistic terms.
Jesus didn’t just die to get us off the hook. He also died to resurrect the person we were destined to be before sin distorted the image of God in us.
Jesus doesn’t just set us free spiritually — He also sets us free emotionally, relationally and intellectually.
We are held captive by so many things — imperfections, insecurities, guilt, anxiety, expectations, lies and mistakes.
But, Jesus died to set us free from all of this. He doesn’t just set us free from who we were, He sets us free to become who we were meant to be.
Salvation is not the end goal; salvation is a new beginning.
When we experience the new birth, God goes to work. And He begins using our circumstances — no matter what they may be — to chisel us into His image and set us free from ourselves.
In AD 1464, members of an influential Italian guild contracted with a sculptor named Agostino di Duccio to create a sculpture of David for the cathedral of Santa Maria Del Fiore.
A massive block of marble was provided from a quarry in northern Tuscany and the work began.
However, Agostino only got as far as beginning to shape the legs, feet and torso before abandoning the project.
The block of marble remained essentially neglected for more than 35 years, all the while exposed to elements outside the cathedral. In AD 1500, an inventory of cathedral property described the piece as a “certain figure of marble called David, badly blocked out and supine."
It seemed David was destined to join the ranks of unfinished captive statues forever.
Then, in AD 1501, this 18-foot block of stone, which the citizens simply called “The Giant,” was raised on its feet and a search began in earnest to find an artist who could take this large piece of marble and turn it into a finished work of art.
Although Leonardo da Vinci and other master artists were consulted, it was 26-year-old Michelangelo who convinced officials he deserved the commission.
On Aug. 16, 1501, Michelangelo was given the official contract to undertake this challenging new task, and he began carving the statue a few weeks later.
His first task? It is documented that on Sept. 9, 1501, he knocked off a “certain knot” previous sculptors had seen as a fatal flaw in the marble.
But Michelangelo saw how the defect could be removed to allow the beauty underneath to show through, if only a master artist applied the chisel.
Michelangelo would work on his massive biblical hero for more than two years, chiseling a seemingly worthless stone into what many consider to be the greatest statue ever sculpted by human hands.
The young artist saw something in that stone others did not — he called it immagine del cuore, or image of the heart.
All he had to do was remove the excess stone so David could escape. He didn’t see what was, he saw what could be — a masterpiece.
That is exactly how God sees you.
Today, the highlight of the Galleria dell’Accademia in Florence is not Michelangelo’s “captives,” but his David.
It is one of the most recognized works of art in the entire world, which goes to show what can happen when the master is allowed to finish his chiseling.
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