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.
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.
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.
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.
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: