Undisputedly considered as one of the most iconic works in the history of art, Michelangelo’s David was originally a part of a larger project, one of a series of large statues of prophets to be positioned along the roofline of the east end of Florence Cathedral, formally the Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Flower. Initially, Agostino di Duccio, an early Renaissance Italian sculptor, born in Florence, began to work on the statue of David in 1464.
However, over the next two years he could manage only to rough out part of the huge block of marble hewn from the famous quarry in Carrara, before stopping in 1466 for unknown reasons. Though another artist, Antonio Rossellino was commissioned in 1475, he also worked on it for a short period and rejected the enormous block of marble due to the presence of too many imperfections in it, which may have threatened the stability of such a huge statue. Consequently, the marble remained untouched for the next 25 years, until the city government of Florence commissioned Michelangelo to carve the statue in 1501.
During that time, Michelangelo was only 26 years old. However, by that time, he has already become famous, He accepted the challenge and worked constantly for over two years to create one of his one of the immortal masterpieces in gleaming white marble. Made of one single block of marble from the quarries in Carrara in Tuscany, one of the whitest in the world, the huge statue weighing 5,660 kg is almost 17 feet tall.
In the battle between David and Goliath, David hurled a stone from his sling with all his might in the center of Goliath’s forehead and as Goliath fell on his face to the ground and David severed his head. However, unlike other Florentine artists, who all depicted David standing over Goliath’s severed head, Michelangelo represented the Biblical hero David after he has made up his mind to fight Goliath but before the actual fight. He stands relaxed, with his brow drawn, his neck tense and his veins bulging out of his lowered right hand.
He stands with one leg holding its full weight and the other leg forward, causing the figure’s hips and shoulders to rest at opposing angles. The slingshot he carries over his shoulder is almost invisible, emphasizing his cleverness. In fact, Michelangelo’s David represents a picture of exceptional self confidence and concentration. It is considered as one of the best known artworks in the world.
After more than two years of tough work, when Michelangelo unveiled his 14 foot tall David to the members of the Vestry Board and to Pier Soderini, in January 1504, they were so overwhelmed by its beauty and all agreed that it was far too perfect to be placed up high in the Cathedral.
A committee was formed by the city council, which included Leonardo da Vinci, Sandro Botticelli and Giuliano da Sangallo and long discussion, the statue was decided to be installed in the political heart of Florence, in Piazza della Signoria.
Finally, in the midnight of May 14th, the Giant statue was taken out of the workshop and it took four days and forty men to move the statue the half mile from Michelangelo’s workshop behind Santa Maria del Fiore Cathedral to the Piazza della Signoria and eventually got to Signoria Square on June 8th 1504, where it was installed next to the entrance to the Palazzo Vecchio and was unveiled on 8 September 1504. It stood there as a symbol of strength and defiance till 1873, when it was to the Gallery of the Academy, an art museum in Florence and a replica was placed at its original location in 1910.
It is interesting to note that, Queen Victoria was so shocked by the nudity of a replica of David statue, that she ordered a plaster fig leaf to be cast to cover his genitals before being displayed at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London in 1857.