There are amazing artists that create iconic pieces, and geniuses that turn everything they touch into masterpieces. Among those genius artists, one of the most impressive ones was Renaissance master Michelangelo, who not only created some of the most perfect art pieces in history, but actually gave a face to God, which has been ingrained in our heads, and that, my friends, is what geniuses do. But we’re not going to talk about how he basically invented God’s looks, but about another of his most famous masterpieces: the statue of David, considered to be one of the best sculptures ever made.
This sculpture represents the Biblical character of David, the young shepherd who defeated the fearsome and gigantic Goliath, and it was commissioned by the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, in Florence in 1501. Michelangelo’s 17 feet marble sculpture was inspired by the ancient Roman representations of Heracles (Hercules). Besides these facts, there are some others that not everybody knows and that make of David an even more impressive work of art. Do you know them?
His right hand is bigger than the left one
Many believe that the fact that David’s right hand is not proportionate to the rest of his body is a flaw of Michelangelo’s work, but is it? I mean, he’s one of the greatest (if not the best) sculptors of all times, so do you really think he would make such a mistake? Actually, some specialists believe that this was absolutely made on purpose, as he was following Medieval iconography of Biblical characters. At this time, most of the representations of David included a manu fortis or strong hand. Besides his hand, his head is also a bit unproportioned. This is thought to be also a deliberate decision, since the sculpture was originally meant to be placed on the roof of the cathedral. In that way, seen from below it would look proportionate to the spectator. However, once people saw it’s magnificence and magnitude, they decided to place it on the hall.
It was carved from just one block of marble
The story says the block of marble Michelangelo used for his work was already used by two previous artists who couldn’t finish their projects because the block was flawed, but this wasn’t an issue for Michelangelo, so he managed to create one of his most important pieces in that block. It’s said that before Michelangelo used that block, it had been left abandoned for forty years, so the structure of the marble was even more damaged. However, some claim Michelangelo had already worked with this special type of marble known as Carrara, which was used by ancient Romans to create some of their buildings and sculptures and that not everybody could handle due its density.
David weighs about 80 average men
Well, it’s not that surprising; I mean he’s17-feet tall (about three times taller than an average man) and made of pure marble. David weighs about 6 tons, which is the average weight of 80 men together. The impressive thing about this is not the correlation of masses but the fact that it was thought to be set in the roof. Yes, constructions at the time were heavy and strong, but imagine adding some extra 6 tons more to the ceiling. It doesn’t sound like the greatest idea. Fortunately, people got so impressed by Michelangelo’s work that they wanted to appreciate it from a closer perspective, and they decided that the best place to display it was the Piazza della Signoria. Actually, about forty men were needed to transport the “colosso” (as it came to be known) from Michelangelo’s workshop to the Piazza, only half a mile distance. Oh, and it also took them four days.
David became a political symbol
Besides the fact that the Biblical character became a symbol of strength, the story of the young and weak shepherd defeating a strong giant became an inspiration for people fighting powerful governments. The people of Florence got very attached to the sculpture and saw it as a representation of their city. During the last decade of the fifteenth century (1494) the powerful Medici family was sent to exile from Florence, but the people felt the threat of them coming back anytime soon. Of course, it was only natural to see themselves as the living representation of the Biblical episode, them being like David constantly threatened by the powerful Goliath. Unfortunately, their story didn’t end as in the tale, and in 1512 the Medicis ruled the city again. Still, Michelangelo’s David continued having that political meaning for the people of Florence, which takes us to the next point.
David once lost his arm
Being a political symbol isn’t such a pleasant job as David has seen throughout history. In 1527 there was an anti-Medici riot to defeat that powerful family. During the confusion and chaos, the protesters started throwing stones and basically any heavy object to the Palazzo Vecchio, very close to the Piazza della Signoria. Unfortunately, many of these stones actually hit the statue and broke his left arm into three pieces. According to Giorgio Vasari, an architect and artist, it was he who picked up the pieces and saved them so they would be sculpted back into his arm.
Michelangelo was just 26 when he carved David
Yes, this is one of those cases when you feel bad about yourself. I mean, I’m 27 and I haven’t really done anything slightly impressive, but you know the drill with genius minds. Actually, if this wasn’t enough, when he started David in 1501, he was already a renown artist in Italy, since his famous Pietá (1498-1499) had been such a huge success.
Queen Victoria ordered the statue to be censored
This one is my favorite facts. Throughout the years, many replicas of this masterpiece have been made, and one of them was actually given to Queen Victoria as a gift in 1857. The gigantic sculpture was sent directly to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, and the Queen visited it right away. However, when she saw the colossal naked David, she was shocked and slightly offended, so she ordered some sculptors to fashion a gigantic leaf to cover his genitalia.
The stories behind these pieces can be as impressive as the works themselves. If you’re into art history don’t miss these:
The Day The Mona Lisa Got Tested For Syphilis
The Breathtaking Picasso Painting That Mixes Art With The Horrors Of War
The Story Behind Van Gogh’s Ear As Told By Paul Gauguin