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Culture Re-View: Unveiled today in 1504, here are 5 intriguing facts about Michelangelo's David

Michelangelo's David
Michelangelo's David Copyright Canva
Copyright Canva
By Jonny Walfisz
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8 September 1504: Michelangelo’s David is unveiled

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There are few works of art that you could claim are perfect. Often, the true beauty of a piece actually comes from its imperfections. This isn’t one of them.

Nearly a century before Renaissance master Michelangelo created David, other artists were commissioned to create a series of the Twelve Apostles for the Florence Cathedral. The first was a terracotta statue of Joshua, carved by Donatello in 1410. A statue of Hercules followed in 1463 by Agostino di Duccio.

Agostino was asked to then create a statue of David. However, he stopped the work when his master Donatello died in 1466. After attempts to find a replacement floundered with artists not completing work, it took until 1501 for the official contract to be given to the 26-year-old Michelangelo.

From 1501 to 1504, Michelangelo toiled at marble to create the masterpiece. Although initially intended for the Florence Cathedral, the final statue was moved around a few times as different groups (including Leonardo da Vinci and Sandro Botticelli) disagreed on its placement. Finally, it was agreed that David would stand at the entrance of the Palazzo della Signoria, the city’s town hall. It was unveiled to the public on this day in 1504.

Here are some fun facts about Michelangelo’s David:

The marble was upcycled

In the time it took to settle on Michelangelo as the right sculptor for David, two sculptors had a crack at it. Both Agostino and Antonio Rossellino failed to get the David project off the ground from the large and heavy block of marble they were given.

Instead of giving Michelangelo a new block of marble, he was handed the same piece Agostino was first commissioned with in 1464. A win for recycling!

David is imperfect

Okay, you caught me. I started the piece calling David a perfect piece of art, but actually there are some irregularities with it. Stanford University researchers pointed out that David’s eyes aren’t exactly pointing the right direction. His right eye points directly forward, while his left stares off into the distance.

Speaking of wrong, David’s right hand is abnormally large. This was on purpose though as David was said to be “strong of hand”. Blimey.

Alessandra Tarantino/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved
Tourists admire Michelangelo's "David statue" in the Accademia Gallery in Florence, Italy, Tuesday, March 28, 2023.Alessandra Tarantino/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved

Big head

Another factor that’s out of proportion is David’s head. This is definitely not an imperfection though. David’s head and arms are significantly bigger than if he was a scale model of a man because Michelangelo knew that most people would view the statue from below.

When looking up, David is in imposing proportions. It’s not surprising either, given that the statue is 5 m 17 cm tall. Or in other words, about the same as an adult giraffe.

There can be only one

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While the original is still in Florence, there are 30 life-size copies of the legendary statue around the world. While many of these are in international galleries, perhaps the most intriguing place for one of the copies is the Palazzo della Signoria, where the statue was first decided to stand.

The real one is only a bit down the road, in the Galleria dell'Accademia.

A controversial statue

Over the years, many people have taken issue with David’s naked torso. Queen Victoria ordered a plaster fig leaf to be attached to the version she was given in 1857.

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Even this year, parents at a school in Florida demanded images of the fully nude David were removed from educational books. The principal of Tallahassee Classical School ended up resigning.

If that’s not enough, an Italian restaurant’s advert on Glasgow’s transport network were forced to cover up poor David’s genitals this year.

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