David (Michelangelo)

Coordinates: 43°46′36.13″N 11°15′34.02″E / 43.7767028°N 11.2594500°E / 43.7767028; 11.2594500
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Michelangelo's David - right view 2.jpg
Yearc. 1501 – June 8, 1504
MediumMarble sculpture
SubjectBiblical David
Dimensions517 cm × 199 cm (17 ft × 6.5 ft)
LocationGalleria dell'Accademia, Florence, Italy
Preceded byPietà
Followed byMadonna of Bruges

David is a masterpiece of Renaissance sculpture, created from 1501 to 1504 by the Italian artist Michelangelo. With a height of 5.17-metre (17 ft 0 in), the David was the first colossal marble statue after antiquity, a precedent for the 16th century and beyond. David was originally commissioned as one of a series of statues of prophets to be positioned along the roofline of the east end of Florence Cathedral, but was instead placed in the public square in front of the Palazzo della Signoria, the seat of civic government in Florence, where it was unveiled on 8 September 1504. In 1873, the statue was moved to the Galleria dell'Accademia, Florence, and in 1910 replaced at the original location by a replica.

The biblical figure David was a favoured subject in the art of Florence.[1] Because of the nature of the figure it represented, the statue soon came to symbolize the defence of civil liberties embodied in the Republic of Florence, an independent city-state threatened on all sides by more powerful rival states and by the hegemony of the Medici family.



The history of the statue begins before Michelangelo's work on it from 1501 to 1504.[2] Prior to Michelangelo's involvement, the Overseers of the Office of Works of Florence Cathedral, consisting mostly of members of the influential woolen cloth guild, the Arte della Lana, had plans to commission a series of twelve large sculptures for the buttresses of the cathedral.[3] In 1410, Donatello made the first of the statues, a figure of Joshua in terracotta. A figure of Hercules, also in terracotta, was commissioned from the Florentine sculptor Agostino di Duccio in 1463 and was made perhaps under Donatello's direction.[4] Eager to continue their project, in 1464, the operai contracted Agostino[5] to create a sculpture of David.

A block of marble was provided from a quarry in Carrara, a town in the Apuan Alps in northern Tuscany. Agostino only got as far as beginning to shape the legs, feet, torso, roughing out some drapery, and probably gouging a hole between the legs. His association with the project ceased, for reasons unknown, with the death of Donatello in 1466, and ten years later Antonio Rossellino was commissioned to take up where Agostino had left off. Rossellino's contract was terminated soon thereafter, and the block of marble remained neglected for 26 years, all the while exposed to the elements in the yard of the cathedral workshop. This was of great concern to the opera authorities, as such a large piece of marble was not only costly, but represented a large amount of labour and difficulty in its transportation to Florence.

In 1500, an inventory of the cathedral workshops described the piece as "a certain figure of marble called David, badly blocked out and supine."[6] A year later, documents showed that the operai were determined to find an artist who could take this large piece of marble and turn it into a finished work of art. They ordered the block of stone, which they called 'the giant',[7] "raised on its feet" so that a master experienced in this kind of work might examine it and express an opinion. Though Leonardo da Vinci among others were consulted, and Andrea Sansovino was also keen to get the commission, it was Michelangelo, at 26 years of age, who convinced the operai that he deserved the commission.[8] On 16 August 1501, Michelangelo was given the official contract to undertake this challenging new task. It said:[5]

... the Consuls of the Arte della Lana and the Lords Overseers being met Overseers, have chosen as sculptor to the said Cathedral the worthy master, Michelangelo, the son of Lodovico Buonarrotti, a citizen of Florence, to the end that he may make, finish and bring to perfection the male figure known as the Giant, nine braccia in height, already blocked out in marble by Maestro Agostino grande, of Florence, and badly blocked; and now stored in the workshops of the Cathedral. The work shall be completed within the period and term of two years next ensuing, beginning from the first day of September ...

He began carving the statue early in the morning on 13 September, a month after he was awarded the contract. He would work on the massive statue for more than two years.


The David in front of the Palazzo della Signoria before 1873, with a leaf covering his genitals
The Pallazzo Vecchio today, with the Fountain of Neptune (1560 and 1574), copies of Donatello's Marzocco and the Judith, then the David next to the entrance, with Hercules and Cacus by Baccio Bandinelli on the far right leading to the Uffizi

On January 25, 1504, when the sculpture was nearing completion, Florentine authorities had to acknowledge there would be little possibility of raising the 5.17 metre high statue[9] approximately weighing more than six tons[10] to the roof of the cathedral. They convened a committee of 30 Florentine citizens that included many artists, including Leonardo da Vinci and Sandro Botticelli, to decide on an appropriate site for David.[11] While nine different locations for the statue were discussed, the majority of members seem to have been closely split between two sites.

One group, led by Giuliano da Sangallo and supported by Leonardo and Piero di Cosimo, among others, believed that, due to the imperfections in the marble, the sculpture should be placed under the roof of the Loggia dei Lanzi on Piazza della Signoria; the other group thought it should stand at the entrance to the Palazzo della Signoria, the city's town hall (now known as Palazzo Vecchio). Another opinion, supported by Botticelli, was that the sculpture should be situated on or near the cathedral.

In June 1504, David was installed next to the entrance to the Palazzo Vecchio, replacing Donatello's bronze sculpture of Judith and Holofernes, which embodied a comparable theme of heroic resistance. It took four days to move the statue the half mile from the cathedral's workshop into the Piazza della Signoria. Later that summer, the sling and tree-stump support were gilded, and the figure was given a gilded loin-garland.[12][13]

Later history[edit]

In the mid-1800s, small cracks were noticed on the left leg on David, which can possibly be attributed to an uneven sinking of the ground under the massive statue.[14]

In 1873, the statue of David was removed from the piazza, to protect it from damage, and displayed in the Accademia Gallery, Florence, where it attracted many visitors. A replica was placed in the Piazza della Signoria in 1910.[15]

In 1991, Piero Cannata, an artist whom the police described as deranged, attacked the statue with a hammer he had concealed beneath his jacket. He later said that a 16th-century Venetian painter's model ordered him to do so.[16] Cannata was restrained as he was in the process of damaging the toes of the left foot.[17]

On 12 November 2010, a fiberglass replica[18] of David was installed on the roofline of Florence Cathedral, for one day only. Photographs of the installation reveal the statue the way the Operai who commissioned the work originally expected it to be seen.

In 2010, a dispute over the ownership of David arose when, based on a legal review of historical documents, the municipality of Florence claimed ownership of the statue in opposition to the Italian Culture Ministry, which disputes the municipal claim.[19][20]


Its slender profile and elegant lines of the arms from the left
The free leg of the contraposto in back view
Back view with the sling running down his spine into his right hand
A sling handle or a stone in his right hand
David's gaze
Modelling of his chest and belly
Composition of parallel lines

The pose of Michelangelo's David is unlike that of earlier Renaissance depictions of David. The bronze statues by Donatello and Verrocchio represented the hero standing victorious over the head of Goliath, and the painter Andrea del Castagno had shown the boy in mid-swing, even as Goliath's head rested between his feet,[21] but no earlier Florentine artist had omitted the giant altogether. According to most scholars, David is depicted before his battle with Goliath.[22] Instead of being shown victorious over a foe much larger than he, David looks tense and ready for battle after he has made the decision to fight Goliath, but, before the battle has actually taken place. His brow is drawn, his neck tense, and the veins bulge out of his lowered right hand. His left hand holds a sling that is draped over his shoulder and down to his right hand, which holds the handle of the sling.[23] The nudity reflects the story of David as stated in the Bible, I Samuel 17:38–39: "And Saul armed David with his armour, and he put an helmet of brass upon his head; also he armed him with a coat of mail. And David girded his sword upon his armour, and he assayed to go; for he had not proved it. And David said unto Saul, I cannot go with these; for I have not proved them. And David put them off him."[24]

The twist of his body effectively conveys to the viewer the feeling that he is about to move; an impression heightened with contrapposto. The statue is a Renaissance interpretation of a common ancient Greek theme of the standing heroic male nude. In the Renaissance, contrapposto poses were thought of as a distinctive feature of antique sculpture, initially materialised in the Doryphoros of Polykleitos (c. 440 BC). This is typified in David, as the figure stands with one leg holding its full weight and the other leg forward. This classic pose causes both hips and shoulders to rest at opposing angles, giving a slight s-curve to the entire torso. The contrapposto is emphasized by the turn of the head to the left, and by the contrasting positions of the arms.[25]

Michelangelo's David has become one of the most recognized works of Renaissance sculpture; a symbol of strength and youthful beauty. The colossal size of the statue alone impressed Michelangelo's contemporaries. Vasari described it as "certainly a miracle that of Michelangelo, to restore to life one who was dead", and then listed all of the largest and most grand of the ancient statues that he had ever seen, concluding that Michelangelo's work surpassed "all ancient and modern statues, whether Greek or Latin, that have ever existed."[26]

The proportions of the David are atypical of Michelangelo's work as well as antique models; the figure has an unusually large head and hands (particularly apparent in the right hand). The small size of the genitals, though, is in line with his other works and with Renaissance conventions in general, perhaps referencing the ancient Greek ideal of pre-pubescent male nudity. These enlargements may be due to the fact that the statue was originally intended to be placed on the cathedral roofline, where the important parts of the sculpture may have been accentuated in order to be visible from below. The statue is unusually slender (front to back) in comparison to its height, which may be a result of the work done on the block before Michelangelo began carving it.

Certainly, David the giant-killer had long been seen as a political symbol in Florence, and images of the biblical hero already carried political implications there.[27] Donatello's bronze David, made for the Medici family, perhaps c. 1440, had been appropriated by the Signoria in 1494, when the Medici were exiled from Florence, and the statue was installed in the courtyard of the Palazzo della Signoria, where it stood for the Republican government of the city. By placing Michelangelo's statue in the same general location, it is not likely that the David was conceived as a political statue before Michelangelo began work on it,[28] as well as an artistic response to that earlier work. But while the original place for the David was high up on the religious building, in the reports of the commission consisting of the most prominent artists of the day, only the best placement for the collossal figure to be seen and appreciated was discussed with an installation on the cathedral was still in question.[29] These political overtones led to the statue being attacked twice in its early days. Protesters pelted it with stones the year it debuted, and, in 1527, an anti-Medici riot resulted in its left arm being broken into three pieces.

Commentators have noted the presence of foreskin on David's penis, which may appear at odds with the Judaic practice of circumcision, but is consistent with the conventions of Renaissance art.[30][31] Moreover, these commentators have failed to distinguish between the more recent development of periah -- which ablates the entirety of the inner and outer foreskin -- with pre-periah circumcision, as practiced by Jews before the early centuries AD. Circumcision without periah only removes the portion of the prepuce that extends past the glans, leaving most of the foreskin intact.[32][33] This would be consistent with David's anatomy.


During World War II, David was entombed in brick to protect it from damage from airborne bombs.

Detail of David's damaged left foot, caused by exposure to the elements and in 1991 when a man hit it with a concealed hammer.

In 1991, the foot of the statue was damaged by a man with a hammer.[16] The samples obtained from that incident allowed scientists to determine that the marble used was obtained from the Fantiscritti quarries in Miseglia, the central of three small valleys in Carrara. The marble in question contains many microscopic holes that cause it to deteriorate faster than other marbles. Because of the marble's degradation, on the eve of the 500th anniversary of the sculpture's unveiling in 2004 the statue was given its first major cleaning since 1843. The original restorer, Agnese Parronchi, opposed the pre-specified method to clean the statue, fearing further deterioration, and quit. Under the direction of Franca Falleti, senior restorers Monica Eichmann and Cinzia Parnigoni undertook the job of restoring the statue.[34][35]

In 2008, plans were proposed to insulate the statue from the vibration of tourists' footsteps at Florence's Galleria dell'Accademia, to prevent damage to the marble.[36]


David has stood on display at Florence's Galleria dell'Accademia since 1873. In addition to the full-sized replica occupying the spot of the original in front of the Palazzo Vecchio, a bronze version overlooks Florence from the Piazzale Michelangelo. The plaster cast of David at the Victoria and Albert Museum has a detachable plaster fig leaf which is displayed nearby. Legend claims that the fig leaf was created in response to Queen Victoria's shock upon first viewing the statue's nudity, and was hung on the figure prior to royal visits, using two strategically placed hooks.[37]

David has often been reproduced,[38] in plaster and imitation marble fibreglass, signifying an attempt to lend an atmosphere of culture even in some unlikely settings such as beach resorts, gambling casinos and model railroads.[39]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ See, for example, Donatello's two sculptures of David; Verrocchio's bronze David; Domenico Ghirlandaio's painting of David; and Bartolomeo Bellano's bronze David.
  2. ^ The genesis of David was discussed a.o. in Seymour 1967 and in Coonin 2014.
  3. ^ Charles Seymour Jr. "Homo Magnus et Albus: the Quattrocento Background for Michelangelo's David of 1501–04", Stil und Überlieferung in der Kunst des Abendlandes, Berlin, 1967, II, 96–105.
  4. ^ Seymour 1967, 100–101.
  5. ^ a b Gaetano Milanesi, Le lettere di Michelangelo Buonarroti pubblicati coi ricordi ed i contratti artistici, Florence, 1875, 620–623: [following text] "... next ensuing, with a salary and payment together in joint assembly within the hall of the said of six broad florins of gold in gold for every month. And for all other works that shall be required about the said building [edificium] the said Overseers bind themselves to supply and provide both men and scaffolding from their office and all else that may be necessary. When the said work and the said male figure of marble shall be finished, then the Consuls and Overseers who shall at that time be in authority shall judge whether it merits a higher reward, being guided therein by the dictates of their own consciences."
  6. ^ Giovanni Gaye, Carteggio inedito d'artisti del sec. XIV, XV, XVI, Florence: 1839–40, 2: 454 and Seymour 1967, 134–137, doc. 34.
  7. ^ De la Croix, Horst; Tansey, Richard G.; Kirkpatrick, Diane (1991). Gardner's Art Through the Ages (9th ed.). Thomson/Wadsworth. p. 651. ISBN 0-15-503769-2.
  8. ^ Coughlan, Robert (1966). The World of Michelangelo: 1475–1564. et al. Time-Life Books. p. 85.
  9. ^ The height of the David was recorded incorrectly and the mistake proliferated through many art history publications (434 cm, e.g. by Pope-Hennessy 1996 and Poeschke 1992). The accurate height was only determined in 1998–99 when a team from Stanford University went to Florence to try out a project on digitally imaging large 3D objects by photographing sculptures by Michelangelo and found that the sculpture was considerably taller than any of the sources had indicated. See Levoy, Marc (March 28, 1999). "We finish scanning the David". and about the process "A 3D computer model of the head of Michelangelo's David".
  10. ^ The statue has not been weighed, but an estimate of its weight was circulated in 2004, when it was cleaned. See a CBS news report by Frances D'Emilio (2004-05-24). "Michelangelo's 'David' Gets a Bath". CBS News. Archived from the original on 2018-11-16. Retrieved 2023-04-11.
  11. ^ The minutes of the meeting were published in Giovanni Gaye, Carteggio inedito d'artisti del sec. XIV, XV, XVI, Florence, 1839–40, 2: 454–463. For an English translation of the document, see Seymour 1967, 140–155, and for an analysis, see Levine 1974, 31–49; N. Randolph Parks, "The Placement of Michelangelo's David: A Review of the Documents," Art Bulletin, 57 (1975) 560–570; and Goffen 2002, 123–127.
  12. ^ Goffen (2002), p. 130.
  13. ^ Coonin 2014, 90–94.
  14. ^ Borri, A. (2006). "Diagnostic analysis of the lesions and stability of Michelangelo's David". Journal of Cultural Heritage. 7 (4): 273–285. doi:10.1016/j.culher.2006.06.004.
  15. ^ Poeschke 1992, 85f, and Coonin 2014, p?.
  16. ^ a b "a man the police described as deranged, broke part of a toe with a hammer, saying a 16th century Venetian painter's model ordered him to do so." Cowell, Alan. "Michelangelo's David Is Damaged", New York Times, 1991-09-15. Retrieved on 2008-05-23.
  17. ^ Rossella Lorenzi, Art lovers go nuts over dishy David, ABC Science, Monday, 21 November 2005.
  18. ^ "Michelangelo's David as It Was Meant to Be Seen : Discovery News". news.discovery.com. Archived from the original on 25 May 2016. Retrieved 24 July 2014.
  19. ^ Povoledo, Elisabetta (31 August 2010). "Who Owns Michelangelo's 'David'?". The New York Times. Retrieved 1 September 2010.
  20. ^ Pisa, Nick (16 August 2010). "Florence vs Italy: Michelangelo's David at centre of ownership row". The Daily Telegraph (London). Archived from the original on 2022-01-11. Retrieved 1 September 2010.
  21. ^ "Andrea del Castagno, Scudo di David con la testa di Golia, c. 1450-55". Wikimedia Commons. Retrieved 24 July 2014.
  22. ^ Howard Hibbard, Michelangelo, New York: Harper & Row, 1974, 59–61; Anthony Hughes, Michelangelo, London: Phaidon, 1997, 74.
  23. ^ "David Sculpture, Michelango's David, Michelangelo Gallery"."Access Denied - Sucuri Website Firewall"
  24. ^ "1 Samuel Chapter 17 KJV". www.kingjamesbibleonline.org. Retrieved 2021-04-03.
  25. ^ Poeschke 1992, 86.
  26. ^ Giorgio Vasari, Le vite de' più eccellenti pittori, scultori e architettori nelle redazioni del 1550 e 1568, ed. Rosanna Bettarini and Paola Barocchi, Florence, 1966–87, 6: 21.
  27. ^ Butterfield, Andrew (1995). "New Evidence for the Iconography of David in Quattrocento Florence". I Tatti Studies. 8: 115–133.
  28. ^ Opposing suggestion by Levine, 45–46.
  29. ^ Poeschke 1992, 39f, 85f.
  30. ^ Strauss, R. M.; Marzo-Ortega, H. (2002). "Michelangelo and medicine". J R Soc Med. 95 (10): 514–5. doi:10.1177/014107680209501014. PMC 1279184. PMID 12356979.
  31. ^ Coonin 2014, 105–108.
  32. ^ "Un-Christian Modern "Circumcision" | PDF | Circumcision | Wellness". Scribd. Retrieved 2023-04-07.
  33. ^ "A Modest Proposal". The Forward. 2011-06-27. Retrieved 2023-04-07.
  34. ^ "Most of the cleaning involved distilled water, although mineral spirits were used to remove yellowish spots of centuries'-old beeswax. Parnigoni used plaster to fill considerable pitting on the marble's surface that was serving as dirt traps. Parnigoni also wielded a scalpel-like instrument to chip away at what looks like age spots - blotches of sulfate deposits that were first blamed by the experts on pollution but latter attributed to restorations centuries ago." CBS News 2004.
  35. ^ Eric Scigliano, "Inglorious Restorations. Destroying Old Masterpieces in Order to Save Them," Harper's Magazine, August 2005, 61–68.
  36. ^ "Michelangelo's David 'may crack'". BBC News. 19 September 2008. Retrieved 19 September 2008.
  37. ^ "David's Fig Leaf". Victoria and Albert Museum. Retrieved 29 May 2007.
  38. ^ "You need not travel to Florence to see Michelangelo's David. You can see it well enough for educational purposes in reproduction", asserted E. B. Feldman in 1973 (Feldman, "The teacher as model critic", Journal of Aesthetic Education, 1973).
  39. ^ That "typical examples of kitsch include fridge magnets showing Michelangelo’s David." is reported even in the British Medical Journal (J. Launer, "Medical kitsch", The BMJ, 2000date needed)


External video
David di Michelangelo2.jpg
video icon Michelangelo's David, Smarthistory
  • Coonin, A. Victor (2014). From Marble to Flesh: The Biography of Michelangelo's David. Florence: The Florentine Press. ISBN 9788897696025.
  • Goffen, Rona (2002). Renaissance Rivals: Michelangelo, Leonardo, Raphael, Titian. Yale University Press.
  • Hall, James (2005). Michelangelo and the Reinvention of the Human Body. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
  • Hartt, Frederick (1982). Michelangelo: The Complete Sculpture. New York: Abrams Books.
  • Hibbard, Howard (1974). Michelangelo. New York: Harper & Row.
  • Hirst, Michael (2000), "Michelangelo in Florence: David in 1503 and Hercules in 1506", The Burlington Magazine, vol. 142, pp. 487–492
  • Hughes, Anthony (1997). Michelangelo. London: Phaidon.
  • Levine, Saul (1974), "The Location of Michelangelo's David: The Meeting of January 25, 1504", The Art Bulletin, vol. 56, pp. 31–49
  • Natali, Antonio; Michelangelo (2014). Michelangelo Inside and Outside the Uffizi. Florence: Maschietto. ISBN 978-88-6394-085-5.
  • Poeschke, Joachim (1992). Michelangelo und seine Zeit. Die Skulptur der Rennaissance in Italien. Vol. 2. Munich: Hirmer.
  • Pope-Hennessy, John (1996). Italian High Renaissance and Baroque Sculpture. An Introduction to Italian Sculpture. Vol. III (Revised 4th ed.). London: Phaidon.
  • Seymour, Jr., Charles (1967). Michelangelo's David: A Search for Identity. Mellon Studies in the Humanities. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press.
  • Vasari, Giorgio (1963) [First published 1550/1568]. "Life of Michelangelo". The Lives of the Artists (? ed.). London: Penguin. pp. 325–442.

External links[edit]

43°46′36.13″N 11°15′34.02″E / 43.7767028°N 11.2594500°E / 43.7767028; 11.2594500