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Joy of Museums

Museums, Art Galleries and Historical Sites

“David” by Michelangelo

'David' by Michelangelo

“David” by Michelangelo

“David” by Michelangelo was completed in 1504 and depicts the Biblical hero David, who killed the giant Goliath with a rock from his sling. David is represented just before his battle with Goliath, tense and ready for combat, Michelangelo has captured the moment between decision and action, during the war between Israel and the Philistines.

David’s brow is focused, his neck tense, his veins are bulge out, he holds a sling draped over his shoulder in his left hand, and he holds a rock in his right hand. The twist of his body conveys motion and is achieved with the contrapposto technique developed by the Greeks for their standing heroic male nude. The figure stands with one leg holding its full weight and the other leg forward. Michelangelo has emphasized the contrapposto technique by the turn of the head to the left, and by the contrasting positions of the arms.

David was initially commissioned as one of a series of statues of the prophets to be positioned along the roofline of the east end of Florence Cathedral. However, due to the more than six-ton weight of the “David”, it could not be placed on the roof of the cathedral. David was a favored subject in the art of Florence. So Michelangelo’s statue was placed instead in a public square, outside the Palazzo Vecchio, which was the seat of civic government in Florence. David the giant-killer had long been seen as a political symbol in Florence. The statue came to symbolize the civil liberties embodied in the Republic of Florence, an independent city-state that had powerful rivals. The eyes of the “David” which had a steady glare, were turned towards Rome.

Michelangelo - David

A replica of David now stands outside the Palazzo Vecchio

In 1873, the statue of David was removed from the piazza, to protect it from damage. It is displayed in the Accademia Gallery, and a replica was placed in the Piazza in 1910.

Michelangelo

Michelangelo was an Italian sculptor, painter, architect, and poet of the Renaissance who was born in Florence, and who had a monumental influence on the development of Western art. Michelangelo is one of the greatest artists of all time. He is considered as a contender for the title of the leading representative of Renaissance man, along with his rival, Leonardo da Vinci.

Five years before the debut of the “David,” Michelangelo’s Pieta had already made him famous, but the “David” defined the 29-year-old artist as a master sculptor of the High Renaissance. Four years later, in 1508, Michelangelo began work on his greatest painting achievement in the Sistine Chapel.

Explore the Galleria dell’Accademia di Firenze

Facts You Should Know About Michelangelo’s David

  • “David” was created between 1501- 1504.
  • Michelangelo started the “David” when he was 26 years old.
  • David is 17 feet tall and is sculpted from a single block of white marble.
  • Michelangelo’s David weighs as much as 80 men.
  • The marble is from the quarries in Carrara in Tuscany, one of the whitest marble in the world.
  • The block of marble that became David was rejected by two previous sculptors who decided it was too difficult to work with. It waited 42 years for Michelangelo to create his masterpiece.
  • Michelangelo broke with tradition by portraying David before his battle with Goliath rather than after the battle as was popular in earlier examples.
  • Michelangelo’s vision for the David was also influenced by depictions of Hercules, a hero with deep ties to the city of Florence who appeared on the Florentine seal for centuries.
  • In 1504 to move the statue a distance was less than a mile, from Michelangelo’s studio to the Palazzo Vecchio. It took forty men and four days.
  • Initially, the sling on his left shoulder and tree trunk behind his right leg were covered with gold leaf. Being outdoors for over 400 years washed the gold leaf away.
  • At one time, there was also a gold garland that was draped over David’s hips that protected his modesty.
  • The tree trunk behind David’s leg provides structural integrity and strength against the weight of the standing statue. It is a conventional technique used in sculpture and can be seen in many famous statues.
  • Protesters broke the statue’s left arm in three spots during an uprising in 1527.
  • In 1857, Queen Victoria was taken aback by the nudity of a full-sized replica of the “David” statue. She ordered a plaster fig leaf to be cast to cover his genitals before he went on display at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
  • The Fig leaf could be attached and removed easily enough so that whenever the Queen visited the “David,” he could be appropriately covered.
  • In 1873, officials moved the David indoors to the Galleria dell’Accademia to protect it from the weather.
  • Michelangelo exaggerated the size of David’s right hand in reference to the biblical David’s nickname “strong hand.”
  • In 1991, an Italian man snuck a small hammer into the Galleria dell’Accademia in Florence and smashed off the second toe on his left foot. The museum’s visitors stopped the attacker and preventing him from doing any further damage.
  • Advanced image analysis shows that David’s left eye gazes forward while the right eye is focused on some distant spot.
  • The statue is currently suffering from stress fractures caused by the vibrations of the 8 million visitors a year filing past.
  • There is more than one David. In Florence, there are two replicas of David, but around the world, there are at least 30 full-size replicas of the statue.
  • While the real David sits in a museum, Florence has two full-sized replicas. One stands in its original site of David in front of the Palazzo Vecchio, and a bronzed replica towers over the city from its perch on Piazzale Michelangelo.
  • Who owns the “David” the City of Florence or the Nation of Italy? In 2010 a legal argument took place between the Italian Government and the City of Florence over the statue’s ownership. The issue is not yet resolved.

Reflections

  • Did you know? Initially, the “David” had gold leaf covering the sling on his left shoulder and tree trunk behind his right leg.

David

Michelangelo

Michelangelo Quotes

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“I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.”

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“Lord, grant that I may always desire more than I can accomplish.”

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“Trifles make perfection, and perfection is no trifle.”

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“The true work of art is but a shadow of the divine perfection.”

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“Many believe – and I believe – that I have been designated for this work by God. In spite of my old age, I do not want to give it up; I work out of love for God, and I put all my hope in Him.”

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“Death and love are the two wings that bear the good man to heaven.”

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“Every block of stone has a statue inside it, and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.”

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“The true work of art is but a shadow of the divine perfection.”

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“There is no greater harm than that of time wasted.”

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“The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short, but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark.”

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“Genius is eternal patience.”

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“My soul can find no staircase to Heaven unless it is through Earth’s loveliness.”

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“An artist must have his measuring tools not in the hand, but in the eye.”

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“A man paints with his brains and not with his hands.”

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“The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it.”

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“If people knew how hard I had to work to gain my mastery, it would not seem so wonderful at all.”

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“I am still learning.”

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‘Trifles make perfection,” The best artist has that thought alone which is contained within the marble shell; The sculptor’s hand can only break the spell To free the figures slumbering in the stone.” and perfection is no trifle. ”

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“A beautiful thing never gives so much pain as does failing to hear and see it. ”

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“It is necessary to keep one’s compass in one’s eyes and not in hand, for the hands execute, but the eye judges. ”

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“I live and love in God’s peculiar light. ”

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“Death and love are the two wings that bear the good man to heaven. ”

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“If people knew how hard I had to work to gain my mastery, it would not seem so wonderful at all.”

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“If you knew how much work went into it, you wouldn’t call it genius. ”

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“The true work of art is but a shadow of the divine perfection.”

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“The best of artists has no conception that the marble alone does not contain within itself. ”

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“The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it.”

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“It is well with me only when I have a chisel in my hand. ”

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“From such a gentle thing, from such a fountain of all delight, my every pain is born. ”

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A Tour of Italian Museums

Rome Museums

Florence Museums

Milan Museums

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“I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.”
– Michelangelo

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Photo Credit: By Jörg Bittner Unna (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons 2)By Jörg Bittner Unna (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons   3)By Arnaud 25 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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