In the world of sculpture there are certain pieces that stand head and shoulders aboves most others, Michelangelo’s David is certainly one of those. Sculptured between 1501 – 1504 David stands 5.17m (17ft) and represents the biblical hero David, remembered for is fight with Goliath. Today the figure stands alone, in the Galleria dell’Accademia in Florence but was originally one of a series of figures designed to decorate the roofline of the Cathedral in Florence. Authorities decided however to place it in front of the Palazzo della Signoria where it was unveiled on 8th September 1504.
The history or David begins, before the involvement of Michelangelo, when in 1464 Florentine sculpture Agostino di Duccio was commissioned to create a figure of David which was to be one of 12 sculptures to decorated the roofline of the cathedral. In 1466, Donatello, Agostino’s great friend died, Agostino then decided to leave the project having begun work in sculpting the feet, legs and part of the torso. Ten years later in 1476, Antonio Rossellino was commissioned to continue Agostino’s work. Rossellino’s work last only a few months and from then on the marble laid neglected for almost 25 years.
The piece of marble caused authorities problems as not only was the marble expensive, it came from the world’s most famous marble quarry in Carrara, Italy, but because of its size it was difficult and costly to move. It was decide to place the figure, which was known as “the Giant” upright to allow artists to examine it and give an opinion. The figure was visited by Leonardo da Vinci who showed interest in the project but the eventual commission was given to a 26 year old Florentine Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni, more commonly known as just Michelangelo.He began carving on 13th of September 1501, and would work on the figure for more than four years.
With the figure nearing completion in 1504, it was decided that a figure which weighed more than 6 tonnes was to heavy and difficult to place on the roof of the cathedral so a committee, which included da Vince and Botticelli, was convened to discuss a possible site. It was decided to place David at the entrance to the Palazzo della Signoria, the Town Hall of Florence, which is today known as Palazzo Vecchio. It took workers 4 days to move the figure 900m (0,6mi) from Michelangelo’s workshop to the Palazzo Vecchio which is located on Piazza delle Signoria. David replaced Donatello’s bronze sculpture of Judith & Holofernes which was moved to the Sala dei Gogli (Hall of Lillies) inside the Palazzo Vecchio
With the figure being exposed to the elements for more than 350 years it was decided in 1873 to move it into the Galleria dell’Accademia, where it still stands today. In 1910 the city of Florence decided to place a replica on the spot where the original stood as a fitting reminder.
David was a common theme amongst Renaissance artists of the 14th and 15th centuries however Michelangelo’s interpretation has a twist. Artists, like Donatello, always created David after or somethimes during, his battle with Goliath. A victorious David with Goliaths head in his arms or under his feet. Michelangelo however created a David who was about to fight, he has made his decision to do battle but the fight has not yet begun. David represents the people of Florence, the Florentine Republic, and David represents her enemies most notably the Medici Family who were ruling the city at the time.
David today is seen a as one of the most recognised pieces of sculpture in the world, a symbol of both strength and human beauty. Probably the best accolade given at the time of its unveiling was by the Italian writer and painter Giorgio Vasari who claimed the
“…certainly a miracle that of Michelangelo, to restore to life one who is dead…….in David, Michelangelo surpasses all ancient and modern sculptures, whether Greek or Latin, that have ever existed”
The morning after its unveiling the People awoke to find David covered with letters and cards, a common practice at the time as a way people showed approval of disapproval of a creation. One card in particular summed it up the Florentine peoples view of David;
“David, you make us proud to be Florentine again”
A guided visit of the Galleria dell’Accademia to visit David is available on;