A symbol of Florence and one of the most renowned sculptures in the world, the statue of David by Michelangelo won’t fail to amaze you. The original is carefully guarded at the Accademia Gallery, while two copies stand in strategic points of the city: Piazza Signoria and Piazzale Michelangelo.
About 5 meters tall, the gigantic marble statue of David must have left Michelangelo’s contemporaries speechless when it was unveiled in 1504. It was the first colossal statue to have been created since antiquity. So tall and heavy (and naked) that the place for which it was destined, the cathedral buttresses, had to be changed. After months of discussions, David was instead given the job of guarding the entrance of Palazzo Vecchio.
Statue of David – Michelangelo’s great achievement
Michelangelo wanted to learn from classical sculptors and surpass them, and with the grandiose statue of David he did just that. According to Vasari “this figure has put every other statue, ancient and modern, Roman or Greek in the shade”.
The fame of Michelangelo, who was only 24 when he returned to Florence from Rome after sculpting the Pietà, grew exponentially. His work shows beauty and unparalleled craft, with a very modern psychological depth.
At once mighty and graceful, David is caught in the moment that precedes the attack on the giant Goliath. He has a sling thrown casually over his shoulder and gazes at his enemy, confiding that his faith in God will help him in battle. His tension is barely visible in the position of the leg and the slightly flared nostrils. The huge right hand holds the stone that he’s about to throw, merging all strength, latent energy and hope.
David as a symbol of Florentine power
David was a popular subject during the Renaissance. For Florence he represented civic Republican virtues; the righteous fighting against the oppressor. The statue took four days to be moved to Piazza Signoria, and became an admonishment against Florence’s enemies. Later the Medici adopted this symbol of power once they moved to Palazzo Vecchio to rule over the city.
It was moved to the Accademia Gallery in 1873 and was later replaced by a copy which takes a battering from the weather in its place. The original has recently been restored and the white of the stone is as brilliant today as it would have been 500 hundred years ago, when he came out to stupefy the Florentines for the first time.
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Did you know?
Usually David is depicted as a young handsome boy, as per the Biblical description. If you want to compare this statue of David to previous ones, head for the Bargello and have a look at the “younger” and smaller versions of David by Verrocchio and Donatello. They both depict him after the killing of Goliath, standing proudly sword in hand.