Giorgio Vasari already considered this sculpture one of the greatest masterpieces of all time. This is the most famous sculpture in Florence and maybe in the whole world. It has been created between 1501 and 1504. It is 14 feet high and depicts a biblical nude character. It was intended for the cathedral (commissioned by the Opera del Duomo). Initially the cathedral was supposed to have niches for various statues at about 262 feet from the ground. The David was intended as one of them, but when the board saw the perfection of the sculpture, they decided to place it elsewhere.
The Board asked Michelangelo to complete the unfinished project of Agostino di Duccio (began in 1464), which was continued by Antonio Rossellino in 1475. They rejected the block of marble because of its imperfections. They were afraid that the stability of the statue could be affected by them. Therefore the block remained in the courtyard of the Opera del Duomo (Vestry Board) for 25 years.
When he started to sculpt the David, Michelangelo was only 26 years old. However, he already was the most famous and best payed artist of his time. He accepted the challenge and sculpted constantly for more than two years. The subject of the statue was chosen by the vestry board. Never the less, Michelangelo interpreted the biblical character in a vary original way. In fact, previous artists (like Verrocchio, Ghiberti and Donatello) represented David after his victory against Goliath. Instead, Michelangelo sculpted David before the battle. The hero is tense, as he is at the top of his concertation. He is both relax and tense, in the classical contrapposto pose. The wait of the figure rests on one leg, while the other is stretched forward. This makes David’s hips and shoulders to be at apposing angels thus shaping the entire torso as an S-curve. He has a sling shot over his shoulder, but it is barely visible because Michelangelo wanted to emphasize the fact that David won the battle thanks to his cleverness, not to his force. The biblical character is extremely self-confident and focused; these are both values that symbolized perfection during Renaissance.
The story of the battle between David and Goliath is present in book one Samuel. Saul’s army is facing the Philistines near the Valley of Ellah. Goliath is the champion who challenges the Israel lights twice a day for 40 days. In the end, David accepts the challenge. He is a young shepherd who refuses the kings armor. Instead, he takes his sling and five stones. With one of them he hits Goliath right in the middle of his forehead and then decapitates him.
Michelangelo’s project was secret and remained so until January 1504. He worked at it in an open courtyard, so when it rain he was soaking wet. This maybe how he got inspiration for his working method: legend has it that he had a wax model submerged in a water. Then he slowly let the level of water drop and sculpted what was visible. He rarely slept and it is said that he never took of his closed and boots. His biographer mentions that he rarely ate as well.
After having worked for two years, Michelangelo finally showed his David to the vestry board and to Pier Soderini (the Gonfaloniere of the Republic). They decided to place the perfect statue in a different area. For this reason they assembled a committee of about thirty members that included artist like Leonardo da Vinci, Sandro Botticelli and Giuliano da Sangallo. In order to decide which was the best location for the statue. There was a long debate and nine locations were suggested. In the end, Piazza della Signoria was chosen, as it was the political heart of the city. Forty men moved the David in four days: one archway had to be taken down during the passage of the sculpture that was placed on a wooden cart, protected by robes and slid on trunks. On the 8th of June 1504 David substituted the bronze sculpture of Judith and Holophernes by Donatello.
Once the statute was in its place, Michelangelo continued working at the details. For instance the sling and the support of the sculpture were gilded like the victory garland. However, this decorations disappeared in time because of the exposer to external agents.
The perfection of the statue help the David become the symbol of the freedom of the Republic of Florence. It indicated that the city was ready to defend its self. Only in 1873 it was moved to the Galleria dell’Accademia in order to protect it from pollution. The space reserved for the David in the Gallery was designed by Emilio de Fabbris in the 19th century: the natural light allows the visitors to admire Michelangelo’s passion for human anatomy reflected in his knowledge of the male body. The eye bulks, the tends veins, the beautiful torso and the perfection of the muscles all illustrate how good an observer the sculptor was. If you examine the statue closely, you will notice that David’s right hand is unusually large, just like his head. There are various explanations for this anomaly, one of them says that since the statue was initially supposed to be placed high above in the Cathedral, some parts of the sculpture needed to be emphasized. This would have made them visible from bellow. Another hypothesis affirms that Michelangelo wanted to underline the concentration and the decision that David made by using enlarged proportions for the head and respectively for the right hand.
Giorgio Vasari excellently summed up the qualities of this masterpiece: a harmonies sculpture that reached the maximum level of design and artistry.