Possibly one of the most famous pieces of Renaissance art, Michelangelo’s David attracts millions of visitors to the Galleria dell’Accademia in Florence (where it is housed) each year. It’s not hard to see why—displaying an acute attention to detail and master craftsmanship, this impeccable statue is considered by many to be among the ranks of the artist’s greatest works. While you wouldn’t think he has much to hide just by looking at him, the David is full of surprises. Here, you’ll find four things you might not have known about this world-famous masterpiece.
Michelangelo was not the first artist commissioned to work on the David.
Nor was he the second. In 1501, the 26-year-old Michelangelo was the third artist approached by the Overseers of the Office of Works to complete the project—37 years after it was originally started. Citing imperfections in the block of Carrara marble provided, the first two craftsmen abandoned their posts. As a result, the roughly hewn slab lay discarded and exposed to the elements for 25 years before Michelangelo was able to transform it.
The statue was not originally intended to stand on the ground.
Originally commissioned as a piece to adorn one of the exterior supports along the roofline of the Florence Cathedral, David only wound up where he is today at the hand of the committee who commissioned him. In 1504, once the statue was complete, it was deemed too beautiful (and too heavy) to be installed so far out of the way in its intended place. After intense deliberation, a panel of 30 that included Leonardo DaVinci and Sandro Botticelli came to the conclusion that the statue should stand in Palazzo della Signoria—the center of Florentine government. It took four days and ten times as many men to move the six-ton statue here, where it would stay until 1873.
Though religious in subject, at the time of its completion, the David was of particular political significance.
At the time of the statue’s creation, the city of Florence was at odds with the corrupt Medici family—whose rise to power in the early 1400s had long been suffocating Florentine freedoms. A majority of citizens sought to depose the Medici from their place of authority and in their place, instate a new regime that would reunite the heads of a variety of other prominent families as part of a grand counsel. Given this tense political climate, it was no accident that this representation of David, a giant slayer and heroic symbol, was ultimately placed in the city’s political center. For many, the statue became a representation of resistance and a stood as a defender of the city’s freedom.
Despite being a prime example of detail, the statue’s head and right hand are over-proportioned.
There are two popularly held ideas as to why. The first sees these exaggerations as an aesthetic necessity since the statue was originally intended as a roofline decoration, and would need different parts to be accentuated in order to be properly viewed. The second argues that Michelangelo intentionally oversized these details for symbolic reasons—an enlarged head to represent David’s heightened concentration and an augmented right hand to highlight his carefully thought out action in the battle against Goliath. Why do you think he did it?
Have you ever been to visit Michelangelo’s David? What were your impressions? Let us know in the comments.