Michelangelo is one of art history’s most celebrated geniuses, and his remarkable statue of the Israelite King David is probably the single most famous sculpture in the world. It’s an amazing piece of work that everybody recognizes and knows something about. Yet, when you look even closer, the amazing skill and patience employed by Michelangelo in his creation become startlingly apparent.
Over his left shoulder, David is holding a sling, and his right holds a rock. With these unsophisticated weapons, David is ready to make his attack on the giant Philistine champion, Goliath, from which he will emerge victorious – his first major act before becoming Israel’s most famous king.
David’s name was translated into Biblical Latin as ‘fortis manu sive desiderabilis’, the former part of which means strong by hand. Its perhaps for this reason that David’s right hand is out of proportion with the rest of his body.
David was carved from a single piece of marble. What’s even more remarkable is that this marble had been acquired twice previously by artists who decided they couldn’t or didn’t want to make anything of it. The stone was unwanted for 40 years before Michelangelo set to work on it for two years when aged 29. Four years later, Michelangelo was commissioned to work on the Sistine Chapel.
Originally the work was commissioned to be stationed on the roof of Florence Cathedral dome. Yet, because the work was so astonishingly beautiful, that plan was scrapped so it could be appreciated up close.
The famous art writer Giorgio Vasari wrote immediately upon seeing David that: “Whoever has seen this work need not trouble to see any other work executed in sculpture, either in our own or in other times.”
When a replica of David was made for Queen Victoria by the Grand Duke of Tuscany, the royal was so offended by its nudity that a plaster cast fig leaf was ordered to cover the nude young man and preserve his modesty.
Some 8 million people every year come to the Galleria dell’Accademia where the statue stands. Yet all those footsteps are said to be ruinous to David. Each mini tremor causes vibrations that are slowly tearing the marble apart. For this reason, the statue is frequently being restored.