Michelangelo’s Flawed Statue

Look at this sand vein running down the face and neck and shoulder of Michelangelo’s Slave in the Louvre.

See full size of this photo here

It is a terrible shame. But the beauty of Michelangelo’s conception comes through in spite of it. The same goes for most of the Greek statues that have reached our times all broken and crushed. They are still beautiful!It seems that every fragment keeps the strange power of the whole. No earthquake, no vandalism, no damnatio temporis can harm the angel inside.


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10 Responses to Michelangelo’s Flawed Statue

  1. Allen says:

    As you, as I, and our mutual friend Dan gaze into the mirror in the morning and lament the loss of what we once were, we can take comfort in your final sentence.

  2. ion danu says:

    I don’t think it’s a shame, swallows… it’s just a small accident, a small hazard of the marble and what is perfection needs a bit of accident to be perfect… I cannot get out of my head the Eccleziast’s words about the vanity (it is not the right word… the uselessness?) of all things human (or inhuman)… and the only fight, the only work I seem to find meaningfull in its uselessness is art… there is somthing so… well, heroic in its absurdity… in it…

  3. 100swallows says:

    Thanks, Allen. What a surprise! I’m afraid even my angel has had a few knocks–maybe yours didn’t get banged around so much inside its cell.

  4. 100swallows says:

    Nice, Danu. A shame or not, that sand vein must have tortured Michelangelo while he worked on the statue. He must have thought of destroying it more than once.

  5. kimiam says:

    maybe michelangelo wanted to prove that even with a sand vein, he could create a masterpiece. The sand vein reminds me of the disfigured face of someone struck with an unfatal blow from a sword. -Someone who dared to live anyway- and so does the Slave.

  6. Allen says:

    My angel too has had its share of bumps and bruises, but it still flaps its wings and sings sometimes. You’ve created a fascinating world for yourself, far from that small ville in Ohio (only 40 misles from where I grew up) and the remarkable school we attended together. Castles at sunset, wine in 1000-year old caves, lanterns on old French bayonets. You’ve done well, my friend.


    Thanks, Allen. They tell me you haven’t done so badly yourself. I wonder what we owe to that remarkable school. I’m glad to hear your angel still sings, old pal.

  7. 100swallows says:

    Kimiam: that’s a fine idea but I can’t picture Michelangelo sculpting scarred slaves or any patron agreeing to such an extravagant proposal. If he had seen that sand vein early enough he would have dumped that block, sure. “Here,” you’d have him say to Julius or the Gonfalonier, “what do you think? I let this sand vein spoil the face on purpose to prove that I could make a masterpiece out of a defective block. Remember how I carved the David out of a block with a hole in it?” Chuckle, chuckle.
    “But the David is perfect now.”
    “Yes, but this scar shows how clever the genius (me) can be. He gives you something ugly and tells you it is pretty. See how everyone ignores the flaw? Genius, Holiness, genius.”
    “Why don’t you go sculpt for the devil, you genius idiot.”

  8. kimiam says:

    …but there it is, complete and beautiful with a sand vein. I agree, he probably didn’t realize the flaw in the block until after he started. I wonder how it influenced changes in his design as he worked. -A slave with cruel scars. Serendipity.

    Don’t get me wrong. I believe perfection doesn’t exist in this world, but beauty, perseverance, ingenuity, resilience do exist.

    I’ve seen many artists turn catastrophe into innovation.

    Remember the sculpture you liked of mine that I dropped? It changed the position of her arm and her face. I could have given up- cried and thrown it away, but I saw a new direction instead. I saw something better than what it had been before.

    This is what artists do.

  9. 100swallows says:

    Careful, Kimiam. I agree with all you say but here that sand vein wasn’t part of the Michelangelo’s show. If he had tried to incorporate it in his design–really tried to make it look like a scar on the “slave”–that would have been one thing. But it was an accident of nature, a mean surprise, and he left it that way, and worked around it. It is hard to understand why it took him so long to see it. I once witnessed the appearance only at the polishing stage of a black blotch on the lower abdomen of an otherwise beautiful marble woman. It spoiled the statue. It looked like the artist had painted on her fur down there. Marble often has those surprises. But a sand vein is easier to discover at an early moment because your chisel digs in too easily along it. Also you can hear as you pound that the marble block doesn’t ring.

  10. kimiam says:

    if it’s as you say, then he probably knew early on.

    I apologize if I sounded arrogant earlier. I didn’t mean it that way. This thing is key to being productive as an artist and is the difference between the old me, who used to be crushed by too much adversity, and the new me who takes it in stride (at least more than I used to!!).

    I’ve learned this by watching the artists around me who flourish and grow. You can’t always salvage your work after a catastrophe, but often you can.

    My stone carving friend says whenever he accidentally takes too much off the block, he redesigns.

    I knew an artist who, whenever her raku pieces broke, she would put them back together and then put 22kt gold leaf on the cracks. She didn’t hide the cracks. She considered them part of the beauty of the piece at that point.

    One friend was sculpting a portrait bust and the final session, after hours and hours of work, it fell on the floor and one side of the face was smashed. He was disappointed at first, but then he embraced it. He left it like that and someone bought that sculpture…they walked past all the complete, whole, pristine sculptures in his studio and bought that one that fell on the floor because it was different.
    Kimiam: Don’t you go apologizing for I don’t know what. I never thought you sounded arrogant. That was a good idea you had. And I’m glad you learned that lesson about just accepting adversity and going ahead with the new challenge–because damned if I have learned it! Michelangelo certainly took these things hard too. I didn’t mention other things that occurred to me, such as that thin, flat nose of Christ’s. I’d bet anything it was originally bigger and broke while Mike was carving it, so he had to settle for a smaller, less perfect nose. It’s true what you say about being forced to create again–redesign–as you work, and that sometimes a correction leads you to an even better result. But knowing that never helped me stop swearing and temporarily giving up.
    Did my little silly dialog between Mike and the Pope make you think I was ridiculing you? I hope not. I was only having fun with the idea–got carried away.
    Anyway, you have a lot of good ideas, so it must be easy for you to come up with another one when things fail. You’re a lucky doggie.

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