Michelangelo's David has stood for centuries as a remarkable artistic homage to the human form. The Italian artist had big shoes to fill when he accepted the task of sculpting the hero David. Artists such as Donatello and Verrocchio had already created famous David statues of their own. Michelangelo's David, however, went on to become one of the most famous and recognizable statues in the world.
Commission and Subject
It was the Arte della Lana, or the Merchant of Wool, who commissioned Michelangelo to sculpt a statue of David in 1501. The group was in charge of the décor and maintenance of the Cathedral in Florence and wanted the statue. They provided Michelangelo a giant block of marble that had been used and abandoned years earlier by artist Agostino di Duccio. Previous David statues such as those sculpted by Donatello and Verrocchio portray David as a warrior and a hero, complete with helmet and sword. Instead, Michelangelo sets out to sculpt David the man.
While both the Verrocchio and Donatello statues include the severed head of the slain giant Goliath lying at David's feet, Michelangelo leaves that out of his design. He opts instead to show both David's strength and vulnerability. His David stands nude, with his right arm hanging loosely at his side and his left arm holding his slingshot over his shoulder in an almost contemplative pose before his battle with the giant. Michelangelo's finished product, carved from that single block of marble, stands 17 feet tall and is a detailed and nearly perfect specimen of manhood.
Upon the statue's completion in 1504, a committee of artists and officials decided that the David statue was too remarkable to be hidden away within the Cathedral, and they voted to place it in the Piazza della Signoria, the public town square in Florence. David remained in the square until 1873, when officials moved it inside to its new home in the Accademia delle Bell Arti in Florence, where it has resided ever since. In 1882, the city of Florence placed a copy of the statue in the square where it originally stood.
Throughout the centuries, many copies of Michelangelo's David have existed and many have drawn controversy because of the statue's nudity. In 1939, when officials at the Forest Lawn Cemetery in Glendale, California decided to decorate their grounds with a reproduction of "David," they opted to place a fig leaf over the statue's genitalia. This decision brought a storm of criticism from art critics and aficionados throughout the world. In 1969, a store owner in Sydney, Australia gained attention when a poster of the statue that he had hanging in his store was confiscated by authorities.
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