David: Handle with Care
It seems like the real story of a special guard. But in this case the V.I.P. to protect is 5,17 meters high and weighs over 5 tons and has an age that is around 500 years: Michelangelo’s David. We are still looking for the “bodyguard” for this arduous task of protection.
Starting from the beginning, the “birth” of the David was not simple. Just think that two sculptors, before Michelangelo, had already tried to sketch the huge block of marble from which the “white giant” would be born. Both had surrendered because according to them the size of the blockade was insufficient for a full anatomical development of the figure. The main problem, moreover, was the fragility of the marble, perhaps due to the poor quality, to the presence of numerous slits, the so-called “taroli”.
A concomitance of premises far from positive with which Michelangelo, more or less aged twenty-five, had to confront accepting the work contract.
The field of work was immediately sheltered from prying eyes by creating a mysterious aura around the sculpture, for almost three years, until its completion.
Even its location was not an easy decision; intellectuals also took part in the discussions: among them also the great Leonardo Da Vinci who did not agree with most of the leading figures of the time (including Sandro Botticelli, Filippino Lippi, Pietro Perugino, Andrea Sansovino and others) who had participated in the various placement proposals.
At the end he opted for an open-air accommodation that was clearly visible to all, in front of Palazzo Vecchio, replacing the Giuditta di Donatello.
The huge statue was transported in 4 days employing more than 40 men in the operation, pulling the David inside a wooden cage that ran on greased beams to prevent that vibrations could cause damage during transportation. During a nocturnal break of transport, a group of young people loyal to the Medici family, who had just been ousted from power, stoned the statue because, the symbolic value, was easily attributable to the new republican government just established in Florence.
It is from this episode that we begin to glimpse the success of the subject sculpted by Michelangelo, a work that celebrates in all its splendor the Renaissance aesthetic taste: the harmonic and virile anatomical forms and at the same time, a proud aspect of the young biblical hero.
If the successful outcome of the David had exalted the population of Florence becoming the symbol of the new Florentine Republic, the same can not be said of its future: in 1512 a lightning hit the base of the statue causing concern for the “cracks” at the ankles, without causing harmful consequences.
In 1527, during a city riot, the giant was damaged in a strong way, finding himself with the left arm fragmented into 3 parts and the splintering of the sling at shoulder level. In that episode the intervention of Giorgio Vasari and Francesco Salviati was salvific, as they recovered the fragments and hid them in a safe place and, once the riot were over in the city, provided for the restoration. In the early 1800s, the middle finger of the right hand was also rebuilt after damages.
In 1843 the David was subjected to a drastic restoration, at the time commonly adopted based on hydrochloric acid which over the years has proved to be deleterious causing irreparable damage to marble surfaces.
In 1846 a plaster cast was made of the statue which was then used to create the bronze copy which, from 1910, is on the terrace of Piazzale Michelangelo.
No decision was wiser, given the various vicissitudes of past centuries, to find a shelter for the David: a shelter given its precarious conditions of conservation.
In fact, in 1873, the huge statue was placed in the Galleria dell ‘Accademia di Firenze. Once again, the transport was not easy, but it succeeded and the wooden box served for the displacement was left closed and unharmed until the end of the works of the new Gallery Tribune which lasted 9 years.
With the advent of modern times, as during the centuries before, the David took on the symbolic value of perfection and ideal of sculptural beauty, becoming also the representation of Italian craftsmanship in the world identifying with the emblem of the manufacturing excellence that distinguishes our country.
Despite his notoriety and perhaps also because of his metaphorical identity, the misadventures of David do not end here: in 1991, in fact, Piero Cannata made a foolish gesture by striking the left foot of the statue with a hammer splintering his big toe and first two fingers. This act ended on all the world news, bringing out the fragility of the security of the Italian artistic and cultural heritage.
In any case, the damage was repaired thanks to the existing fragments and casts to reinstate the restoration in the same way as the original.
The last restoration and cleaning of the Michelangelo statue was carried out in 2003 by the laboratory of the Opificio delle Pietre Dure in Florence, which used laser scanning of the entire sculptural surface during the diagnostic phase.
The weakness of David’s ankles is not only due to the thunderbolt that struck the base in 1512, but is perhaps due to the fact that Michelangelo, for unknown reasons, had placed the center of gravity out of balance and that, in the course of of years, has caused these weakening. A condition of precarious stability, as revealed by a 2014 study of the Institute of geosciences and georisources (Igg-CNR) of the National Research Council (published in the Journal of Cultural Heritage) where they calculated that the ankles would cede, making the David fall to the ground, if only it was inclined by just 15 degrees. After that study and the unpleasant geological facts that have shaken Italy in recent years, it was thought to place an anti-seismic base to the “perfect” statue but to date it has not yet been conceived nor realized. Meanwhile, deo gratias, the David did not move from his precarious rigidity, always vulnerable in the research for a “permanent center of gravity”.