|A theme itinerary: Michelangelo’s Florence
A walk for two days
Created to be exposed in the most important public place of Florence, the Signoria Square, it was moved from there in 1873 to the Museum, leaving in the square the copy we are going to see tomorrow.
It is now 500 years old, but he does not look so old. The first impression looking at this naked figure is the plastic harmony of forms: a light twisting of the body, the rotation of the head and the bended arm give a sense of movement and agility. The perfect proportions of the David make him a celebrated ideal of male beauty.
Discovering the process of the creation of this magnificent statue is as surprising as the first impact with the masterpiece: there used to be a big block of the finest white marble in deposit the Opera del Duomo (the Cathedral’s foundation), but it was considered somehow too tall and too thin to sculpt in it a good enough work. Mastro Agostino di Duccioaround 1450, tried to start a figure, beginning from the hole between the two knees, but suddenly he stopped because of the unsatisfying result.
Not only beauty is spread in this work, also we can find a well-defined ethic and moral message: David is the winner against the giant Goliath in a Bible episode, and his proud attitude symbolizes virtues combined with rage and strength, bur also dignity and grandeur. These were considered the same traits of the Florentine Republic, the democracy experiment originated after the population expelled the tyrants of Medici in 1498. Moreover the David was like a mirror for Renaissance men, embodying their ideals of freedom and self-responsibility of men for its own destiny. The Medici family will get Florence again in 1512 thanks to a famous siege to the city, during which Michelangelo was one of the chief protagonists against the invading army.
It is always a source for controversies the decision to move a masterpiece from the original outdoor location to a museum. Some would like the works always to remain in their public sites, some others set the conservation before anything else, to avoid damages by weather agents and replacing them with copies. The worst damage suffered by the David during his long history was not caused by any weather caprice, but it was by the Florentine people itself. In 1527, during the passage of the German Lansquenet army through the city while heading to Rome for the famous “Sacco di Roma” (the Sack of Rome), a small group of Florentine rebels took the chance to revolt against the governors of the city. They barricaded themselves inside the Signoria Palace, but anyway they were promptly dislodged. The main damage of this assault was at the David, lying just in front of the entrance of the palace: a heavy bench was thrown from a window against the soldiers trying to open the door, but it fell just on the statue, breaking one arm. Giorgio Vasari and Francesco Salviati, two famous artists who were much friends and admirers of Michelangelo, picked up all the pieces, risking to be aggressed by the soldiers lodging just in front of them, inside the Loggia dei Lanzi, whose name comes just the name of this army. The two artists saved the integrity of the sculpture hiding the pieces and lately handing them over to the new grand duke Cosimo I, who will order the necessary restoration in peacetime. The general cleaning and the careful restoration of 2003 (just before the 500th anniversary of the David) made the signs of this break quite hard to find. The David we can see today has the best appearance since centuries.
Unfortunately masterpieces sometimes have to pay for their popularity suffering the outrages of someone’s envy… approximately 20 years ago a lunatic hit with a hammer the left toe of David, splintering it, but it was immediately restored with much care, so today it is very difficult to see any trace of this damage. The David, in his smart form after the last restoration, is now ready to be admired for the many centuries to come.