The David by Michelangelo, the symbol of the Renaissance, has been studied for years by experts by constantly monitoring the statue and its ankle-high micro-cracks, which could cause breakage.
The most fragile parts are the left ankle and the lower part of the right leg. For many, the David is the most beautiful sculpture ever made and symbolizes the perfect ideal of male beauty.
Michelangelo’s David was exhibited in Piazza Signoria in front of Palazzo Vecchio from 1503 until 1873, when it was moved to its current location, the Accademia Gallery and in Piazza Signoria was placed a copy.
The story of David and Goliath
The statue is 5.17 meters in height and is nicknamed Gigante, the same name that traditionally referred to David’s opponent, Goliath. David was a King of Israel and an ancestor of Joseph, the putative father of Jesus.
The most famous biblical story about David is that of the fight with Goliath, the Philistine giant who terrorized the Israelites. David chose to face the giant armed with a simple sling and a few stones. David was able to defeat Goliath and kill him. A special feature of this sculpture, compared to others of the same subject (such as the David di Donatello) is the absence of the head of Goliath.
This could be a result of Michelangelo’s intention to represent the biblical hero apart from the event, or more simply due to a lack of available material.
How Michelangelo created his masterpiece
It was in 1501 when the Opera del Duomo of Florence commissioned Michelangelo to sculpt a statue of David in his youth defeating the giant Goliath armed with a simple sling, the future king of Israel, from whose lineage Christ belonged.
At that time Michelangelo was merely 26 years old but was already an excellent sculptor. He accepted the difficult task of sculpting the statue from a single block of marble.
It took him three years to complete the David. The sculpture was finally shown to the public on June 23, 1503, on St. John’s day, the patron saint of the city of Florence.
The original location was supposed to be on one of the external buttresses of the dome of the Basilica of Santa Maria del Fiore (Florence Cathedral).
However, the beauty of David took everyone by storm, and in the end the work of art became not only a religious symbol but also a strong political message to be demonstrated in the square. David has since been considered the symbol of justice and freedom that triumphs over evil and tyranny.
The quality of the marble of the statue of David
Others before Michelangelo had already attempted the sculpture unsuccessfully: the bad quality of the marble and its long and narrow shape did not seem suitable to obtain a human figure.
In addition to this, other sculptors were worried about the friability of the material: they feared that once carved the legs would not be able to bear the entire weight of the statue. In fact, scientific studies conducted with modern technology have demonstrated that the properties of the marble used for the David is quite poor, but that other factors have affected the stability of the statue, such as the following:
- for years the David has been exposed to air and temperature changes
- the type of figure, a naked male body, with a section, the area of the ankles, thinner than the rest of the body
- the position that Michelangelo gave him, leaning forward and to the right, has resulted in tensile stresses in areas that have consequently become damaged and cracked
Lesions on the statue
In 1512 lightning struck the statue, affecting the base. According to some scholars, this could be the cause of the failure of the base and of the cracks around the ankles detected in the nineteenth century.
In the more than five hundred years of existence the statue has suffered several accidents and consequent visible lesions. For this reason it was moved to the Galleria dell’Accademia in Florence.
Over the centuries, the micro-cracks, although not visible to the naked eye, have grown. The most fragile parts are the left ankle and the trunk of the right leg. In fact, expert reports indicate that all the weight rests on the pedestal of the statue through the thin sections of the ankles, which underscores the severity of this giant’s structural problems.
The main cause of the damage is certainly the inclination that the statue has taken over time.
Scientific analysis has revealed that the stump plays a vital role for the statue; without it, the statue would not be able to hold its own weight. In fact, to strengthen the right leg, the one bearing the most weight, Michelangelo chose to place it on a tree trunk hub, i.e., the stump.
Now David is constantly monitored through special very small optical fiber sensors so as to not affect the aesthetics of the most beautiful statue in the world.