Florence's Renaissance Giant: Michelangelo’s David

September 25, 2015

Pick up any Florence guidebook, and it urges you to visit the Accademia, one of the city’s great art museums, to see Michelangelo’s David. When we first visited the city in 2003, we took heed and made reservations to view what is probably the most famous statue in the world.

 

 

 

Michelangelo began the sculpture in 1501, believing it would ultimately stand on the roof of the city’s cathedral, Santa Maria del Fiore. The 26-year-old artist worked on the huge block of white marble—cutting, chiseling, and chipping—until beauty emerged. He confronted challenges posed by the marble's composition, dimensions, and the sheer physical demands of shaping stone. He must have had tremendous biceps and forearms. When completed in 1504, city leaders decided to install the statue elsewhere. After much debate, and a laborious moving process that lasted four days, the over 14-foot-tall David (Wikipedia claims a team from Stanford University measured him at 17 feet) appeared in the Piazza della Signoria, near the entrance of the Palazzo Vecchio, Florence’s Town Hall. The goliath sculpture stood guard here until 1873, when the city realized the masterpiece needed a little protection of his own and moved him uptown to the museum, also home to Michelangelo's unfinished Prisoners. 

 

We decided not to despair when we missed our reservation at the Accademia due to a timing glitch at a car rental agency. I was a little disappointed, but we'd already spent time with the copy of David in front of the Palazzo Vecchio. 

 

"Another reason to return," my husband said. To my ears, this was akin to hearing Andrea Bocelli sing Nessun Dorma.

       Photo by Diana Dinverno

 

Another place to spot David is in the Piazzale Michelangelo, across the Arno River, high on a hill overlooking Florence. We walked there from the city’s center in about 30 minutes. This bronze copy of David has a green hue, but his form is identical to that of his older brother. At this venue, it's possible to enoy a pistacchio (pee-STAHK-yoh) gelato while admiring David and the breathtaking cityscape. Also at this site, are bronze copies of Michelangelo’s sculptures of Night, Day, Dusk and Dawn. The marble originals are in the Medici Chapel at the Church of San Lorenzo.

 

    Photo by Diana Dinverno

 

Street vendors offer a wide variety of items bearing David’s iconic image—T-shirts, aprons, baseball caps, underwear—and small resin copies to display on the mantle back home. It's all silly fun with a dash of tawdry commercialism. I discovered museum gift stores frequently stock higher quality souvenirs and books that may be difficult to find elsewhere. The last time I left the city, I had to purchase another bag to bring home additions to our library. 


For avid Michelangelo fans, there are many treasures in Florence. The artist lived from 1475 until 1564 and produced an impressive body of work in the city. The Opera del Duomo Museum, when its newly renovated space and much-anticipated addition opens on October 29, 2015, will exhibit the sculptor’s unfinished Pietà. The face of one of the figures, Nicodemus, is that of Michelangelo. We were fortunate to see it in 2013 before the museum closed for refurbishment.

                             Photo by Diana Dinverno

 

I lingered on the first floor of the Bargello, a sculpture museum housed in a former police station and prison, in front of Michelangelo's bust by sculptor Daniele da Volterra. Not classically handsome, he had a misshaped nose, said to have been broken during a brawl with another artist. Also featured in this rarely crowded museum: Michelangelo’s marble sculptures of Bacchus, Brutus, and Apollo.

 

We crossed the Arno to the Oltrarno and explored the church of Santo Spirito. In a chapel near the back of the church on the left, we happened upon a wood crucifix carved by the 17-year-old Michelangelo. Imagine our surprise and delight when we stood alone (aside from a security guard seated at a desk) to view the work. 

 

We managed to keep our reservation at the Uffizi Gallery, the finest collection of Italian paintings on the planet. There, we found Michelangelo's colorful, sharply-focused painting of the Holy Family. This is the only panel painting attributed to the artist. Although his frescoes spread across the Sistine Chapel's ceiling at the Vatican, Florence's Doni Tondo (The Holy Family) is at eye level and only a few feet away.

 

When we roamed the Palazzo Vecchio, we came across Michelangelo's sculpture, Victory, in the Grand Hall. It gave me a thrill, as I walked through the old building and many other places in the historical heart of the city, to know that David's creator had strode along the same hallways and streets, and gazed up at the very same architecture. 

 

Our final brush with the artist occurred at the church of Santa Croce. This is the resting place for many illustrious Florentines, including Michelangelo. 

 

          Photo by Diana Dinverno

 

We missed the staircase designed by the artist at the Laurentian Library. Unless you stay in Florence for months, possibly years, it's impossible to see everything the city has to offer. I suppose this is a good thing. I'll always have a reason to return.

 

If you’d like to know more about the Renaissance master, I recommend Ross King’s book, Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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