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  • Writer's pictureVishakha

11 Interesting Facts About Michelangelo's Sculpture David

Created by the greatest living artists of his lifetime, the statue of David by Michelangelo is one of the most famous statues in the world. This masterpiece is a true representation of Italian Renaissance art and still garners praise after 500 years of its creation. It was this very statue that cemented Michelangelo Buonarroti’s reputation as an unparalleled sculptor. 

The Statue of David by Michelangelo

The artwork is known for its finesse, fine detailings, size, and of course its beauty. However, there are still several amazing details about Michelangelo’s David that you may not know about. Keep reading with TERAVARNA to find them out. 

The Lesser-Known Facts About David

Michelangelo’s David is one of the most widely loved works of art from the Italian Renaissance. Even to date, it is considered to be the epitome of masculine beauty created by the hands of an Italian legend. Michelangelo completed this statue in 1504, but even today more than  1.7 million visitors come to witness its majestic beauty every year.

If you are also influenced by all the praises of this monumental work and hope to be a part of those 1.7 million people soon, then here are some fun facts about David’s statue that will enhance your visiting experience even further.

1. The Massive Size of the Sculpture of David

If you ever decide to visit David in Florence, the first thing that will amaze you is the monumental size of this sculpture. Currently in Galleria dell'Accademia or the Academia Gallery, this sculpture is almost the size of a two-story building. It is a 17 ft tall piece of art and weighs almost 12000 pounds. It took 40 men and 4 days to move it half a mile from Michelangelo’s workshop to the Piazza della Signoria entrance, where it was to be erected.

2. David is Built From A Single Rejected Block of Marble

The marble used to carve this Michelangelo sculpture is one big slab of white Carrara, extracted from quarries in Tuscany. The artist showed his chiseling skills to create the massive statue with just a single slab instead of joining separate pieces. However, Michelangelo was not the first artist who was commissioned to work on it. 

Three artists before him, including, Agostino, Dontaello, and Antonio Rossellino had tried their hands on it in vain. Soon they all declared it unworkable due to the holes and veiny structure of the marble. It was left unattended for 26 years before Michelangelo finally received its commission to sculpt David. It took him exactly three years from 1501 - 1504 to complete the colossal statue of David. 

3. The Perfectly Imperfect Anatomy 

Close-up of David's hand

Michelangelo possessed a deep knowledge of human anatomy and that can be seen in his many works. However, when it comes to anatomy, Michelangelo’s David is perfect in its own imperfect ways. If you ever get to see David in Florence, you would be able to notice its unusually large head and specifically bigger right hand. Don’t be mistaken because it is not a flaw, but perhaps a deliberate act by the artist. 

The statue was to be placed at the roofline of the cathedral Opera del Duomo. Hence its unusual enlargements were perhaps to accentuate the important parts of the sculpture for viewers down below. Whereas his enlarged hands may be a reference to the biblical meaning of David – strong of hand or Manu Fortis. Nonetheless, you cannot ignore the fact that its detailings are so intricate you can even see David’s nails, muscles and veins on his body.

4. The Unconventional Depiction of David and Goliath

If you are familiar with biblical stories, you would know the story of David and Goliath. As per the gospel, David killed the giant Goliath by hurling a rock at the center of his forehead. Once the giant fell down, David severed his head from his body. Now if you look at any other depiction of David, you will see him with the decapacitated head of Goliath. 

However, Michelangelo decided to change the convention and carved David’s sculpture before he attacked Goliath. You can see the rocks in his right hand and a slingshot on his left shoulder. From the looks of it, David is in deep thought, contemplating his move right before taking down his mighty opponent.

5. The Heart-Shaped Eyes of David

David has heart-shaped pupil

If the perfectly chiseled body of David doesn’t amaze you then maybe the fact that he has heart-shaped eyes will. Yes, you read it right— his pupils are heart-shaped and not circular. While the accurate reason remains unknown, there are many speculations around this. Some say it is because of the height of the statue and this shape highlights the reflection in his pupils. Whereas others think the statue of David, overlooking Florence, represents love for its people. There are also speculations that it is a play with the letter D because it was often represented as a heart in the Italian Renaissance. 

6. The Faded Gilding of the Sculpture

If you think this colossal marble statue was always pure white, then you may be slightly wrong. There are several parts of David that were actually gilded but the coating was lost with time. It included its hair, lips, slingshot, and the tree trunk supporting it. Since the statue was placed in the open, the coating is now gone. It also had golden wreaths accessorizing his sling and head, but we don’t know what happened to it. 

7. The Statue is Balanced on its Right Leg

Tree stump supporting Michelangelo David

If you are familiar with the Italian art term ‘contrapposto,’ you’ll know what we are talking about. In English translation, it means counterpoise. It’s a pose balancing most of the subject’s weight on one foot, which in David’s case is the right one. To support the statue, Michelangelo also carved a stump-like object behind his right leg. So now you know that the stump isn’t merely to set the scene, but to prevent the statue from shattering.

8. Victim of Vandalism and Deterioration

Like several other artworks in history, even Michelangelo’s David could also not escape art vandalism from angry visitors. It has been attacked multiple times in history, causing damage in several places. The first was in 1527 at the hands of some rioters protesting against the Medici Group in Piazza della Signoria.  They threw stones, tiles, and chairs that hit David’s marble statue and broke its left arm in three pieces. 

It suffered another attack in 1991 by a man named Piero Cannata. He snuck a hammer into the Academia Gallery and damaged its toe on the left foot, causing it to break. The statue was also struck by a lightning bolt in 1512 when it was still outside the Plaza. At present, the high traffic of visitors to David can also be an issue. The vibrations caused by their footsteps are also leading to its wear and invisible crack.

9. The Fig Leaf For David’s Modesty

The fig leaf to cover David's genitals

If you haven’t noticed yet, this sculpture by Michelangelo is fully nude. While it has always been appreciated for its artistic brilliance, its unclothed depiction didn’t sit well with many. One of the said objections and the very first came from none other than Michelangelo’s enemy and maestro Leonardo da Vinci himself. 

He suggested that the statue be given a gilded loincloth to cover his modesty. As a result, an attachment comprising fig leaves was added to censor David. While it was taken down after some time, a single fig leaf was attached to it in the 16th century amidst the Vatican’s art censorship with their fig leaf campaign.

10. It is the Most Loved and Reproduced Artworks from Florence

The level of popularity and love for the Statue of David can be seen in its number of replicas. At present, there are 30 full-size replicas of this majestic marble statue in different corners of the world. Some of the more popular ones include a replica at Piazza della Signoria in place of the original, a bronze replica at Piazzale Michelangelo, and a cast replica at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London

The cast replica at V&A was a gift to Queen Victoria by the Grand Duke of Tuscany. She was so scandalized by its nudity that she commissioned a plaster fig leaf to cover the genitals of David. The leaf has now gained its own popularity and is often loaned to be displayed by other art museums and galleries.

11. David’s Ownership Battle Between Italy and Florence

In 2010, a legal battle broke out between the Government of Italy and the city of Florence over who owns Michelangelo David. The strange battle was initiated by the Italian government after a Florence municipality’s historical review of documents and a claim for David’s ownership. The claim also implied a profit sharing in ticket sales to see the statue. 

The city claimed that David was commissioned for Florence and has always been a representation of their civic rights and pride. It also stated that it was the city of Florence that maintained the statue till 1873 before it was shifted to the Academia Gallery. On the other hand, the Italian Cultural Ministry claims that it paid for David’s transportation from Piazza della Signoria and has been maintaining it at Academia Gallery – a state-owned museum – for almost 150 years now. Since the results of the court case are still not decided, no one knows who owns David.

The Unparalleled Beauty of David

To quote the words of Giorgio Vasari, an Italian painter and architect from the 16th century: “Whoever has seen this work need not trouble to see any other work executed in sculpture, either in our own or in other times.” These words by the artist, who also wrote Michelangelo’s biography perfectly describe the charm of David. However, that is not all it has to offer. It is a symbol of bravery, the story of a man who took down a giant with just a slingshot, the representation of courage, and absolutely brilliant artistry that will be etched in history for a very long time to come.


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