Recent talk about marble-moving (it seems that the Elgin Marbles might be on their way back to Greece), set me wondering whether another famous piece of marble, Michelangelo’s David, might also be moved, taken away from its current position at the entrance to the Palazzo Vecchio in the centre of Florence.
[Okay, yes, I know that the statue outside the Palazzo Vecchio is a replica and that the original is in the Accademia museum, but we’re talking symbols here, one the most important symbols in Western art.]
The sculpture, both the original and the facsimile, are in the wrong place, and were never meant to be seen so close-to and from such a low angle. There is a further point in these ‘wokeful’ days: the statue, a symbol of the triumph of freedom over tyranny, stands outside the tyrant’s house, the palace of the Medici Dukes and Grand Dukes. Does this presence there ‘justify’ their autocratic regime? (To be absolutely clear, I’m simply being controversial here, I do not think that statues should be daubed, damaged or displaced simply because they reflect different times, with different values, to ours. But to avoid a Twitter storm, let’s just concentrate on the art.)
The anatomy of the David, even allowing for the quirky exaggerations of the Mannerists, is all wrong, notably the head, which is far too large. The reason: we are not meant to be looking at it from here. The David was commissioned by the Opera del Duomo, the committee in charge of work on Florence’s magnificent cathedral, and was intended to be displayed high on its exterior, some 12 metres above ground.
The young Michelangelo (he was only 26 when the statue was commissioned) began work on it 1501. This was the period (1494 to 1512) when the Medici had been expelled from Florence, and a new republic, somewhat fragile, had been restored. When the councillors saw the masterpiece that Michelangelo had created from the unpromising block of marble he’d been given, they determined that David should be displayed in a more prominent and visible position, daily to remind the citizens of the triumph of the individual (democracy) over the Medici (autocracy).
In1504 it was placed at the entrance Palazzo Vecchio, the seat of the republican administration, then known as the Palazzo della Signoria. Surprisingly, when the Medici were restored, they left the statue where it was, although from time to time their supporters did throw stones at it.
Of course, there is not a snowball’s chance in hell of the powers-that-be moving David and placing it high on the cathedral. But it’s an interesting thought…
I hope you enjoyed my story. Read more fascinating background about Michelangelo’s iconic sculpture in the online DailyArt magazine, at https://www.dailyartmagazine.com/david-by-michelangelo/ and on the website of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London: https://www.vam.ac.uk/articles/the-story-of-michelangelos-david.