David (Michelangelo)  

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"Very few active, strong, psychologically engaging, heroic female nudes and I know of no female counterparts to The Thinker, the Pollaiuolo engraving, or David. To make this point vivid, try the thought experiment of imagining a work like Ingres’s Turkish Bath with men rather than women, or Pollaiuolo’s Battle with women rather than men. The results, I think you’ll find, will seem so foreign as to border on the absurd."--"What's Wrong with the Female Nude?" (2012) Anne W. Eaton

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Michelangelo's David, sculpted from 1501 to 1504, is a masterpiece of Renaissance sculpture and one of Michelangelo's two greatest works of sculpture, along with the Pietà. It is the David alone that almost certainly holds the title of the most recognizable statue in the history of art. It has become regarded as a symbol both of strength and youthful male beauty. The 5.17 meter (17 ft) marble statue portrays the Biblical King David at the moment that he decides to do battle with Goliath. It came to symbolise the Florentine Republic, an independent city state threatened on all sides by more powerful rival states. This interpretation was also encouraged by the original setting of the sculpture outside the Palazzo della Signoria, the seat of civic government in Florence. The completed sculpture was unveiled on 8 September 1504. The cast of David at the South Kensington Museum (now the Victoria and Albert Museum), had a detachable plaster fig leaf, added for visits by Queen Victoria and other important ladies, when it was hung on the figure using two strategically placed hooks; it is now displayed nearby.


Style and detail

Michelangelo's David is based on artistic drawings of the male human form. He considered sculpture to be the highest form of art because, among other reasons, it mimics divine creation. Because Michelangelo adhered to the concepts of disegno, he worked under the premise that the image of David was already in the block of stone he was working on — in much the same way as the human soul is found within the physical body. It is also an example of the contrapposto style of posing the human form.

In the High Renaissance, contrapposto poses were thought of as a distinctive feature of antique sculpture. As exemplified in Michelangelo’s David, sculptured from 1501 to 1504, the figure stands with one leg holding its full weight and the other leg relaxed. This classic pose causes the figure’s hips and shoulders to rest at opposite angles, giving a slight s-curve to the entire torso. In addition, the statue faces to the left while the left arm leans on his left shoulder with his sling flung down behind his back. Michelangelo’s David has become one of the most recognized pieces of Renaissance Sculpture, becoming a symbol of both strength and youthful human beauty.

The proportions are not quite true to the human form; the head and upper body are somewhat larger than the proportions of the lower body. The hands are also larger than would be in regular proportions. While some have suggested that this is of the mannerist style, another explanation is that the statue was originally intended to be placed on a church façade or high pedestal, and that the proportions would appear correct when the statue was viewed from some distance below.

Commentators have noted David's apparently uncircumcised form, which is at odds with Judaic practice, but is considered consistent with the conventions of Renaissance art.

Later history

To protect it from damage, the sculpture was moved in 1873 to the Accademia Gallery in Florence, where it attracts many visitors. A replica was placed in the Piazza della Signoria in 1910.

The cast of David at the South Kensington Museum (now the Victoria and Albert Museum), had a detachable plaster fig leaf, added for visits by Queen Victoria and other important ladies, when it was hung on the figure using two strategically placed hooks; it is now displayed nearby.

In 1991, a "deranged" man attacked the statue with a hammer he had concealed beneath his jacket, in the process damaging the toes of the left foot before being restrained. 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, a controversy occurred in 2003, when the statue underwent its first major cleaning since 1843. Some experts opposed the use of water to clean the statue, fearing further deterioration. Under the direction of Dr. Franca Falleti, senior restorers Monica Eichmann and Cinzia Pamigoni began the job of restoring the statue. The restoration work was completed in 2004.

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.


By the 20th century, Michelangelo's David had become iconic shorthand for "culture". David has been endlessly reproduced, in plaster and imitation marble fibreglass, attempting to lend an atmosphere of culture even in some unlikely settings, such as beach resorts, gambling casinos and model railroads.



  • Hall, James, Michelangelo and the Reinvention of the Human Body 2005.
  • Hartt, Frederick, Michelangelo: the complete sculpture
  • Hibbard, Howard. Michelangelo
  • Hirst Michael, “Michelangelo In Florence: David In 1503 And Hercules In 1506”
  • Pope-Hennessy, John (1996). Italian High Renaissance and Baroque Sculpture. London: Phaidon
  • Template:Cite book
  • Seymour, Charles, Jr. Michelangelo's David : a search for identity (Mellon Studies in the Humanities) 1967.
  • Stokstad, Marilyn (1999), Art History. 2nd Ed. Vol. 2. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
  • Vasari, Giorgio, Lives of the Artists (Penguin Books), “Life of Michelangelo” pp. 325–442. Vasari's report on the origin and placement of David has been undermined by modern historians.

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