Rebellious Soul: Dying Slave

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Rebellious Soul
A Walk on the Wild Side

Curated by Leo Yuan

Michelangelo, Dying Slave, 1515

Rather than as the title calls "dying," the piece to me more likely depicts a young man who is troubled by his uneasy dream. One could see the physical captivity from the cloth bands, but unlike the Rebellious Slave, where bands serve to indicate actual constraint, they only convey a symbol here, a hint that he is not free - not free from a inner prison.

In a seemingly unconscious state, the young man dreams. But what is he dreaming? Without any further proof, I always think as if the Rebellious Slave is the perfect manifestation of this young man's dream. As his body gesture expresses, an uneasy feeling, a little tormented perhaps, I can see a inner-self confined in some bondage, struggling to be free, and the body just unconsciously follows the action. But we still have to ask, what is this confinement? Fleming precisely puts it, "Here is the tragedy of the human race, limited by time but troubled by the knowledge of eternity; mortal but with a vision of immortality; bound by the weight of the body yet dreaming of a boundless freedom." We seem to see a Platonic idea embedded in this piece, one that says soul is confined in the bond of flesh; and for the sculptor, the only way to bring forth the soul of the work, is to carve off the stones--"the less of stone remains, the more that grows."

A non-sequitur: Never as brilliant a craftsman as Bernini, Michelangelo has his way to deliver his idea, one that has always grabbed me. If Bernini is often seen with astonishment, Michelangelo is read with profoundness. Skills are sometimes triumphed by emotions, passions and thoughts take over elaborated craftsmanship. Like his Creation of Adam, it only takes a divine touch for the artist to bring about the soul in a lifeless marble. And he surely did it.

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