In art, we find powerful symbolism. Particularly in statues and sculptures artists have created to honor those who have accomplished much, and to remember the great names of former eras. Through sculptures, a person’s legacy lives on. These tokens of history and culture represent power, physically and spiritually, from a long gone era. Often, they serve as an inspiration for today’s societies. By depicting specific personalities oftentimes larger than their actual physical size, the scope of their power and influence comes across. That is, before the 20th century, sculptures were mainly a representation of human form.

Physical Strength and Mythology in Sculpture

This sculpture of Hercules and Cacus is situated on the Piazza della Signoria, at the entrance of the Palazzo Vecchio, in Tuscan Florence. It was designed by artist Baccio Bandinelli and completed between 1525 and 1534. Embodying the Roman mythology of demigod Hercules and fire-breathing creature Cacus, this work of art is aiming at displaying the victory of the hero over the villain.

Hercules and Cacus
Hercules and Cacus – victory of the Roman demigod proudly symbolizing his physical power – Florence, Italy

Proudly looking into the distance, Hercules is standing tall over Cacus. This emphasizes his physical strength and courage in defeating this “monster” heroically. Cacus is kneeling, looking helpless, while his defeater is standing over him, demonstrating his control over the situation and overall superiority.

Art has the power to transform, to illuminate, to educate, inspire and motivate – Harvey Fierstein

This artistic masterpiece is powerfully displaying an important mythological moment; pure strength and effortless victory using his physical power. It puts Hercules in a bright light, literally, while we stop in admiration. For a minute, we are wallowing in admiration.

A great hero of Roman mythology that is both godly and human, here depicted as a heroic being. Nudity, in fact, is used as both a power symbol that shows physical strength as highlighted by the toned and upright body, as well as inferiority and weakness, embodied by Cacus. Body language is a crucial element. So is the weapon in Hercules’ hand, underlining his physical strength once more. A glorious moment in Roman mythology represented.

Nudity as Powerful Image

Looking particularly at Greek art, we see that nudity is a common theme. However, there is no shame connected to it, rather heroism and a notion of strong warriors. Greek artists mostly depicted bodies in their natural state. It was a way to show the strong bodies. Moreover, it was a powerful status symbol: humans associate muscles with strength.

In fact, the Greek (art) body itself has influenced societies around the world. Many are striving for that seemingly perfect physical male image – an example of just how powerful it is and to what extent it has impacted our perspectives.

Symbolizing Intellectual Power

This life-sized replica of David, originally by Michelangelo, is standing in Florence on the Piazza della Signoria. It replaces the original that used to be at the same spot for over four hundred years.

David – a replica of the original by Michelangelo, representing spiritual superiority – Florence, ItalyPiazza della Signoria – Florence, Italy

Throughout his career, Michelangelo specifically admired the human torso. The most famous sculptor of the Renaissance understood well the power that comes with a bare, muscular male chest showing physical strength. But in this case, it is about the biblical symbolism of intellectual power. David, who was so much smaller than Goliath – physically inferior. Yet, his intellect was greater and he was more skilled than his opponent.

As a spiritual sculpture, David is in a laid-back position, gazing towards what’s ahead: the final strike. His hand position shows his superiority by holding the rock; sure of his victory, the sling is casually hanging from David’s shoulder.

The power of art is not in communication but effect; what it does, not what it relates – Darby Bannard

Hence, the sculpture exudes pure power of skill. He doesn’t look too muscular, but rather sleek and agile, which goes well with the intention of bringing across the mental power intended by Michelangelo. The aura around the David sculpture is mesmerizing.

Have you seen those two sculptures in real life? Do you have a favorite sculpture somewhere in this world?