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My daughter, grandson and I toured Italy in 2017, checking many destinations and sights off our “must see” list. The colosseum and Sistine Chapel in Rome, Venice’s canals and the Leaning Tower of Pisa were on the list, along with Michelangelo’s David in Florence.
To see those places, structures and statue, after years of reading about them and studying photos, was both surreal and wondrous.
In Florence, our tour guide, Andrea, shared stories about David, one of the most amazing sculptures in the world. Andrea’s reverence and passion kept us spellbound and listening to every word as he shared from his wealth of knowledge.
I learned much that I did not know that deepened my appreciation for Michelangelo and his incredible sculpture. These are things you may not know about Michelangelo’s David. Perhaps you will learn something new as well.
Where is the David Statue?
David is located in the Accademia Gallery in Florence, Italy. Considered the most famous statue in Florence, and perhaps the world, this magnificent work of art was created between 1501 and 1504 by a young Michelangelo, who was about 26 years old when commissioned for the statue.
The museum features other works of art by Michelangelo and art by great Italian artists such as Botticelli, Ghirlandaio, Pontormo and Orcagna.
We spent a couple of hours in the museum, as part of a day in Florence. One could easily spend a whole day there, studying the exhibits.
Things You Probably Do Know About Michelangelo’s David
First, the things you probably DO know about this famous statue.
David is a depiction of the Biblical David, who killed the giant Goliath with a slingshot and a stone. Goliath taunted the Hebrew army daily…think bullying to the extreme…and because of his size, no one wanted to fight him. Although David was a youth, he accepted Goliath’s challenge to fight, one on one. Foregoing armor and a sword, David instead relied on his faith in God to help him defeat Goliath.
David is presented in all his glory, meaning the statue is naked.
The marble statue is 17 feet, 6 1/2 inches tall and weighs more than 12,000 pounds.
Things You May Not Know About Michelangelo’s David
And now for the things you may not know. I love learning facts about well known places and things. The stories add interest and depth.
Commissioned to Decorate the Roofline of a Cathedral
David was originally commissioned to stand along the eastern roofline of the Florence Cathedral. Because of the impressive quality of work, David ended up instead in a public square, the Piazza della Signoria, where it was unveiled on September 8, 1504. To protect it from weather and vandalism, the statue eventually took up residence in the Accademia Gallery in 1873. A replica of David replaced the original in the piazza.
And in 2010 another David replica graced the cathedral roofline, carrying out the intention from hundreds of years ago.
Carved From a Single Block of “Rejected” Marble
Michelangelo carved his masterpiece from a single block of Carrara marble. Two other sculptures began work on the block. Both stopped due to the poor quality and brittleness of the marble. Additionally, the marble contained strong veins running through it while pinholes riddled the surface.
When Michelangelo began his sculpture, the block of marble had sat abandoned for 40 years.
It took 40 men four days to move the completed sculpture from Michelangelo’s studio to the piazza.
A Unique Portrayal of David
Michelangelo broke with tradition in his portrayal of David. Other sculptures created a triumphant David, holding aloft the head of the giant after the battle. Michelangelo chose to show David before the battle, vulnerable and trusting in his nudity, his gaze analyzing the situation. A sling rests over his left shoulder and his right hand grasps a rock, indicating David was a leftie.
Michelangelo based David’s pose on Hercules, a hero with strong connections to Florence. Hercules appeared on the Florentine seal for centuries.
David’s Hands and Head are Disproportionately Large
People have wondered if Michelangelo made a mistake, creating David’s hands and head larger than they should have been. However, even at a young age, Michelangelo was not a beginner artist. David was not his first sculpture. Additionally, Michelangelo studied anatomy, dissecting dead bodies to learn how muscles, bones and tissues worked.
One theory is that the large hands are a nod to David’s nickname, manu fortis, which means “strong of hand”. Our tour guide Andrea suggested another possibility. Because David originally intended to stand high above the ground, on the roof of the cathedral, Michelangelo enlarged the hands and head so that when people looked up, the proportions appeared correct.
David is Suffering From Stress Fractures
More than 8 million visitors a year walk through the gallery to view David. All that foot traffic creates vibrations that are causing stress fractures in the marble. Frequent inspections reveal where repairs and restorations are necessary.
Queen Victoria of England received a replica of the David statue as a gift, in 1857. Shocked by David’s nudity, she ordered a plaster fig leaf made, to cover his privates. Leaf in place, the statue went on display at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
Although David has been a Florence resident for more than 500 years, the Italian government recently asked courts to determine whether David belongs to the city…or to Italy. No decision has been made yet.
Appreciation for David
My tour group spent about 30 minutes with David, as Andrea spoke passionately about him. Seeing Michelangelo’s statue was definitely the highlight of our time in Florence.
I felt strong emotions, circling the incredible sculpture. I admit that my eyes filled with tears several times.
He truly is beautiful and the artist’s genius is evident. David’s muscles show Michelangelo’s familiarity with human anatomy. The rib cage shows definition. And David’s face is extraordinary. The eyes appear to gaze intently toward his challenger. A tiny furrow creases his brow, making him seem deep in thought. His body appears relaxed and confident and powerful.
Andrea shared that Michelangelo believed God gave him the gift of releasing figures from the marble. When asked how he created David, Michelangelo reportedly replied that he simply chipped away all the stone that was not David.
I am forever grateful for the opportunity to see David and learn things I did not know about him. I hope you’ve learned new things about David as well!
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