Here’s one for the history books.
Lawyers for the Italian government say they can prove that Michelangelo’s David belongs to the state rather than the city of Florence, where it’s been standing since Michelangelo completed the carving in 1504.
Why now? Can it be that tourist dollars “David” brings to Florence beguile cash-poor Rome?
Not that Rome’s case is without grounds. When the weather-beaten statue was moved from its original outdoor location at the front of Florence’s City Hall to Florence’s Accademia gallery in 1873, the then mayor of Florence billed Rome for the cost of moving it, saying it belonged to the Italian government.
Concern for weather-beaten “David” was also an issue at the Ringling Museum where a bronze replica stands in the courtyard. Sand, salt spray, sulfurs and acid rain encrusted and corroded the work, and in 1999 these accretions were removed. The work was cast in celebration of Michelangelo’s 400th birthday in 1874 in Naples, Italy, at the Chiurazzi Foundry – famed for reproducing faithful bronze copies from museum originals. One of the Chiurazzi replicas stands outside Florence’s City Hall, the original site for “David.”
Back to the current brouhaha: Despite Rome’s claim, “David” has Florence written all over it, beginning with the figure’s brave stance, which Michelangelo intended as an emblem of the Florentine Republic’s defiance of its enemies, including Rome. No surprise there. Michelangelo was a proud hometown boy.
By showing David calmly facing Goliath, furtively palming a stone, his sling flung casually over his shoulder, the statue comes across more as an icon of governed might than warrior. The figure stands for reflection before battle rather than the usual image of victory afterward. That reining-in of inner strength can be seen in the figure’s steadfast facial expression. Despite a furrowed brow that speaks of fear, David stands tall before that fear – an inspiration for the people of Florence. Long after the unification of Italy, the statue remained an icon for the Florentines.
In fact, you might even say that “David” was Florentine from the day it was conceived, when the Board of the Cathedral in Florence hired Michelangelo to carve the David.
Then there’s that paean to Michelangelo that Renaissance historian Vasari wrote. (Note his reference to Florence):
“The benign ruler of heaven graciously looked down to earth and resolved to save us from our errors…And therefore He chose to have Michelangelo born a Florentine, so that one of her own citizens might bring to absolute perfection the achievements for which Florence was already justly renowned.”
Rome can forget about getting the “David,” don’t you think?