Statue of David

 Statue of David, copy, Florence, public art

Public Art : Statue of David (also known simply as David)

Sculptor : © Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni (6th March, 1475 – 18th February, 1564) commonly known as Michelangelo.

Description : Arguably the most well known statue in the world , the 17ft (5.17m) Renaissance marble statue is of the Biblical hero David.

A face tense with furrowed brow, eyes staring into the distance, vein bulging from right hand, casual stance and slingshot thrown over his left shoulder in readiness for combat, mixed messages indeed. The contrast between this intense expression and calm pose suggests Michelangelo wanted to capture the moments following David's decison to fight the giant, that moment between conscious choice and conscious action.

If you look closely the head and hands are unusually large and disporportioned to the rest of the body. The reason for this could be because originally the statue was intented to be placed on the Catherdral roofline where the important parts are often accentuated to be visible by people from below.

The marble used for David came from the Fantiscritti quarries in Miseglia, the central of three small valleys in Carrara.

Location: The statue of David was orginally erected in a public square, outside the Palazzo della Signoria but was later moved to the Accademia Gallery in Florence in 1873 and a replica put in its place in 1910.

Date Unveiled : David was unveiled on the 8th of September 1504.

Background to the Statue of David : The statue of David was originally going to be one of twelve Old Testament statues commissioned by the Overseers of the Office of Works of the Duomo (Operai) to adorn the buttresses of Santa Maria Del Fiore. In 1464 Florentine sculptor Agostino di Duccio was the first to be given the task of sculpting a David. A marble block from a Carrara quarry was chosen and he began chipping away at the legs, feet and torso before he was removed from the project. No reason for his sudden departure was ever given. Ten years later the project fell into the lap of Antonio Rossellino and he too was given the sack soon after. For 25 years the block of marble lay outside the cathedral workshop exposed to all the elements.

Not one for waste, the Operai were determined to find an artist willing to complete the project despite the marble now having been badly neglected . Leonardo da Vinci was one of many consulted but it was 26 year old Michelangelo who begged for the commission and eventually won in on August 16th, 1501. For more than 2 years Michelangelo chipped away at his masterpiece. In the meantime the Operai realized there was no possible way they could hoist the 6 ton statue onto the roof of the Cathedral. A committee was formed to discuss where on earth they were going to locate David now. After much to-ing and fro-ing the statue was placed at the entrance to the Palazzo della Signoria (Florence's town hall) replacing Donatello's bronze sculpture of Judith and Holofernes. It took four days to move the enormous creation the half mile from Michelangelo's workshop into the Piazza della Signoria.

Over time the statue came to symbolize Florentine freedom, as the then Republic of Florence fought to maintain it's freedom against the surrounding and more powerful states. It was no coincidence that David stares defiantly towards Rome.

Statue of David Trivia :

OK, let talk about the elephant in the room, David's penis.  Yes,it's uncircumcized which is at odds with Jewish practice but consistent with art of that period.

Made from a 16-foot piece of stone so oddly shaped that several other artists had abandoned it as impossible to work with, Michelangelo found in it good working material. From its depths he chipped, chiseled and polished one of the highest examples of three dimensional art ever created.

Michelangelo was paid 400 Florins for the work.

The plaster cast replica of David at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London comes with its own detachable fig leaf. Evidently the prudish Queen Victoria was so shocked when she first set eyes on the naked body of David a leaf was created to be hung prior to further royal visits.

In 1512 the original statue was struck by lightning but only the base suffered light damage.

On April 26th of 1527 during riots following the second expulsion of the Medici from Florence the statue was badly damaged thanks to a group of Republicans holed up in the Palazzo Vecchio. The stones, tiles and furniture they threw from the windows in the ensuing battle resulted in David's left arm breaking into 3 pieces and the sling across his shoulder splintering.Giorgio Vasari and Francesco Salviati picked up the pieces and hid them in the house of Salviati until the return of Grand Duke Cosimo I who paid for the restoration. During this time a temporary metal fig leaf was placed over David's genitals.

In 1813 the middle finger had to be rebuilt thanks to a little accident. They aslo coated the statue in wax.

In 1843 the sculptor Lorenzo Bartolini commissioned Aristodemo Costoli to  restore a broken toe and give it a good clean. Unfortunately Costoli chose hydrochloric acid as the preferred cleaning method. 

In 1991 a crazed man attacked the statue with a hammer, damaging the toes and left foot.

In 2004 work began on cleaning the statue in readiness for the 500th anniversary celebrations of the statue. During this multi million dollar clean up, the first big clean since the hydrochloric acid clean of 1843, experts discovered fine cracks in David's left ankle and now fear he may not be standing forever.

During the big clean in 2004 a senior member of the restoration team , Agnese Parronchi,quit over the cleaning methods. She believed the statue should only be cleaned using brushes not water.

Centuries of pigeon's pooping on David's head left nasty black deposits on his hair. This was all removed during the big clean.

Thirty nine international art experts also signed a petition opposed to the cleaning of David, preferring him to remian dirty.

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