Michelangelo's David

After my sister and I finished the #DaliMeetsDante exhibit at the Palazzo Medici Riccardi, we checked into our Airbnb flat and rested our feet for an hour.  And then, we were up and on our way again to our tour of the Galleria dell'Accademia, where we would meet a lovely, young man named David.

The Galleria dell'Accademia was founded in 1784 by Pietro Leopoldo, Grand Duke of Tuscany.  It houses a few sculptures of Michelangelo - Prisoners, an abandoned Pieta, and his most famous, David.  There are also 15th and 16th Century masterpieces by master painters - Sandro Botticelli, Domenico Ghirlandaio, Pontormo, Andrea del Sarto, to name just a few.  There's also a Museum of Musical Instruments that displays early violins from Antonio Stradivarius and early pianos by the inventor, Bartolomeo Cristofori.

Galleria dell Accademia by Millenari

I had to book the tour because I attempted to buy the museum tickets online too late in the game and the tickets were already sold out.  I was a bit bummed, but it turns out... it was a good thing.  I booked two tours through Artviva. - The Original David Tour and the Masterpieces of the Uffizi Gallery Tour.

We met our tour guide outside of their office and walked about ten minutes over to the gallery.  Our tour guide's name was Kate, a British expat who moved to Florence to study art history and ended up staying for twenty seven years.  She was great. During our walk over, she gave a great little historical catch up about the life and times of a young Michelangelo.  She told us how David was meant to be one of a dozen statues of prophets that would stand on top of the Duomo (see the circled platform below the smaller dome in the picture).

When finished, David was so large (4.34-metre (14.2 ft), 5.17-metre (17.0 ft) with the base and weighed six tons!) and there were difficulties getting him up to that platform.  So, he was placed in front of the Palazzo della Signoria, the seat of civic government in Florence, where it was unveiled on 8 September 1504.

Replica of David in front of the Palazzo della Signoria

David stood here for three hundred years until in 1873, he was moved into the Tribune (designed and built just for him) in the Galleria dell'Accademia.  A replica now stands in his previous post at the Palazzo.

Before we met David, we passed by a few other works of Michelangelo.  The Prisoners (or The Slaves) are a series of unfinished sculptures for the tomb of Pope Julius II  -  Young Slave, Bearded Slave, Awakening Slave, and Atlas Slave.  They were called prisoners (or slaves) because Michelangelo viewed them as trying to break out of the marble stone.  They were an excellent inside look into how Michelangelo approached a block of stone and carved out his creations!

Young Slave, Bearded Slave, Awakening Slave, and Atlas Slave

Next, we saw the Palestrina Pietà - a work in progress that was allegedly abandoned by Michelangelo because of a flaw in the marble stone.  It's hard to see from my photo but there is a dark grey vein that runs from the neck of Jesus Christ and down through the bottom of the marble. There is debate if this was really done by another unknown artist.

And, finally, we saw David. 

David began as a large block of marble, received in 1464 by Agostino di Duccio who was commissioned to create a sculpture of David based on the biblical story of David and Goliath.  Agostino began roughing out the legs and the feet but then, for reasons unknown, his participation in the project ended.  The block of marble laid in the cathedral yard for twenty five years before there was concern about this costly block of marble wasting away and the labor efforts required to move it.

A twenty-six year old Michelangelo convinced the committee of the Opera del Duomo that he was the artist to take on this project.  Two years later and utmost secrecy surrounding this sculpture, he was finished.  Michelangelo was known to keep his works hidden under lock and key... unveiling the finished work to all only when completed.  He worked endlessly and hardly ever socialized.  He even created a hat in which he could place a candle in so that he could work through the night!

David by Michelangelo

There are other versions of the statue of David.  One big difference with Michelangelo's version (besides its size!) - instead of depicting David's triumphant over killing Goliath, this statue depicts David a few moments BEFORE he makes the final throw of the stone with his sling shot.  It depicts a thinking man... a direct link between the decision made in David's mind to make the deadly shot and the hand which would execute this decision.  A moment captured between conscious thought and action.

His body's posture also emphasizes this moment.  His body is ready for action - his brow is drawn, his neck is tense, his body is twisted, all of his weight is balanced to his back leg, and he holds the stone firmly in his hand.  This is the classic controposto position. 

David is the most recognized Renaissance sculpture representing strength and youthful beauty. People wonder why his hands and head are so large in proportion to his body - because originally he was to be placed high on top of the Duomo.  It would have been hard to communicate the importance of his head and hands if they appeared too small from above.

Why were his genitals so small in proportion to his body? Because David was young, and the small-ish genitals were to represent the Greek ideal of pre-pubescent male nude figure.

The view from behind.

I didn't know this but David's left arm was broken in three places during an anti-Medici uprising in 1527.  A chair was thrown out of the window at Palazzo della Signoria.  The pieces were picked up by Giorgia Vasari and the statue repaired.

Before being removed from the outside the Palazzo del Signoria, David's once shiny and white finish was dull and blackened by three hundred years of weather.  A local restoration "specialist", Aristodemo Costoli was given the task of cleaning him.  Unfortunately, Costoli bathed it in hydrochloric acid to remove the black gunk... and while that worked to remove the dirt, it also removed several milimeters of the white marble surface.  So, today, David has a matte, white finish.

And, in 1991, a mentally unstable man came into the museum with a hammer and chisel and began chipping away at David's toe!  Today, the sculpture is protected behind a glass enclosure with video cameras at every angle.

David is definitely a masterpiece and if you're ever in Florence, don't forget to stop by and see him!


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