Michelangelo David

Michelangelo David

Michelangelo's David (1475-1564), created in Florence between 1501 and 1504, is the first monumental statue of the High Renaissance and is considered the most famous sculpture in the history of art.

The original, carved from a single block of marble, has been in the Galleria dell'Accademia in Florence since 1873. The 5.17-meter-high figure is estimated to weigh nearly six tons..

The sculpture, depicting David preparing to fight Goliath, was placed in Piazza della Signoria in 1504 as a symbol of the Florentine Republic, against whose enemies David stands guard.

Michelangelo David's Description

The sculpture depicts the biblical David at the moment when, the slingshot already placed on his shoulder, he takes up the fight against the giant Goliath (1 Sam 17 EU). David's body appears in a relaxed contrapposto position, casually carrying the sling over his left shoulder.

The battle-ready tension is recognizable in the protruding veins of the right hand, which encloses the projectile, but above all in the neck and face: in the taut neck tendons, the tense lips and nostrils, the furrowed brow. David's gaze is fixed on a point in the distance.

Michelangelo's depiction differs from earlier Florentine Renaissance versions in that it shows David before he fights the giant. Sculptors Donatello and Verrocchio and painter Andrea del Castagno depict the youthful hero with Goliath's head cut off. Michelangelo, on the other hand, no longer draws the viewer's attention to the battle that has already ended, but to the imminent victory.

Origin of Michelangelo David

In 1501, the 26-year-old Michelangelo received a commission for a colossal statue of David from the influential Arte Della Lana, the wool weavers' guild, in Florence. The agreed fee was 400 florins. He had at his disposal a huge block of Carrara marble, or more precisely a block of statuary, which after a laborious two-year journey had been stored in the cathedral garden since 1468.

This block was over five meters long, weighed about twelve tons, and also had small holes and veins. Agostino di Duccio had already been commissioned to create a figure of David from the block in 1464, as had Antonio Rossellino in 1476; both sculptors had abandoned the work and left the massive block in a roughly hewn state.

Michelangelo was now to complete the plan, conceived almost forty years earlier by the Domopera, to add a David to the program of figures on the outer buttresses of Santa Maria del Fiore.

The proportions of the figure, which at first glance appeared deficient, were adapted to the strong soffit of the intended location at a great height on the outside of the cathedral choir.

In the spring of 1504, however, a commission specially appointed by the city's Signoria, which included, among others, the artists Piero di Cosimo, Sandro Botticelli and Leonardo da Vinci, decided on a different location for the almost completed David. The majority of the commission chose the square in front of Palazzo Vecchio, the seat of the Signoria.

While transporting the statue for four days, during a night break, a group of young people loyal to the pro-Medici faction, ousted from power, attacked the statue by pelting the symbol of republican government with stones; the symbolic value of the work was obvious - David was seen as a fighter against the Medici, who had been ousted in 1494.

On September 8, 1504, the sculpture was ceremoniously unveiled in front of the Palazzo Vecchio.

Michelangelo David's History of the sculpture

On April 26, 1527, when rioters in Florence threw stones from the Palazzo Vecchio, the left arm was hit, breaking into three pieces. The young Giorgio Vasari collected the fragments and gave them into safekeeping. After the Medici rule was finally secured, they were given to Cosimo I in 1543, who had the figure restored.

In 1873, in order to protect the marble sculpture from the weather, it was decided to remove it from Piazza della Signoria and place it in the Florentine Accademia. For this purpose, the Italian architect Emilio de Fabris had designed a separate domed room called the Tribuna.

Bureaucratic and construction delays initially prevented the figure's removal, and it was housed in a wooden enclosure near the Accademia. In 1882, the Tribuna was completed and opened to the public with its David.

In 1991, the statue was damaged by a person who managed to knock out some pieces of marble from the toes of the left foot with a hammer before being overpowered by security forces.

In 2010, the Italian Minister of Culture, Sandro Bondi, made claims of ownership of the figure by the Italian state. The state has so far failed to protect the five-meter-high sculpture from earthquakes and to place it on an earthquake-proof pedestal to mitigate its risk of falling and being destroyed.

Copies of the statue

In Florence, a marble copy of the statue of David was placed in its original location in front of the Palazzo Vecchio in 1910. A bronze cast forms the centerpiece of an ensemble in the Piazzale Michelangelo, laid out around 1900, flanked by other Florentine sculptures of Michelangelo - also cast in bronze.

There are now numerous copies of the David around the world, including:

  • A full-scale replica was created for the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts in Moscow for teaching purposes to students, where it stands with replicas by other artists on the same subject.
  • In 1896, German publisher Arnold Hirt donated a full-scale plaster copy to the Leipzig Museum of Fine Arts.
  • Italian artist Clemente Papi made a plaster copy for Queen Victoria of England in the 19th century, but she was so shocked by the figure's nudity that a full-scale fig leaf was also made to cover the genitals during future royal visits. The figure is now housed (along with a copy of the fig leaf) in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
  • In 1995, the city of Florence wanted to donate a copy to the city of Jerusalem on the occasion of the 3000th anniversary of David's conquest of the city. After fierce opposition from Orthodox Jews, Jerusalem authorities rejected the gift because the statue was nude on the one hand and uncircumcised on the other, and thus could represent an Italian but not a Jew.
  • In California, someone decorated his house and property with 23 scaled-down copies of David, but all with different facial expressions.
  • A garish pink copy of the David made of metal and epoxy resin by Hans-Peter Feldmann stood in Kant Park in front of the Lehmbruck Museum in Duisburg from 2010 to 2016, but then had to be dismantled and stored due to weather damage.
  • With a size of 1 mm and 0.1 mm, a copy made of copper, which was produced by a special 3D printing process, is probably the smallest statue of David in the world.
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