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Art / David

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"The LORD that delivered me out of the paw of the lion, and out of the paw of the bear, he will deliver me out of the hand of this Philistine."
David, 1 Samuel 17:37

The David is a stone sculpture by Michelangelo Buonarroti, finished in 1504. It memorializes the moment from 1st Samuel where the shepherd David accepts his duty to battle the Philistine warrior Goliath for the sake of Israel, the chosen nation of God.

There are several depictions of David in Renaissance art, and multiple well-known sculptures, including one made by Donatello nearly 100 years before, but Michelangelo's version remains famous enough that it is sometimes referred to as the David.

The original is currently located at the Galleria dell'Academia (photo) in Florence. A replica stands in front of Florence's Palazzo Vecchio where the original once was, and a second bronze replica overlooks the city from the aptly-named panoramic Piazzale Michelangelo.


The David provides examples of:

  • Artistic License – Biology: Michelangelo is normally strict about adhering to human anatomy, but he deliberately made the hands and head of the David overly large, most likely so that people viewing it from far away in a chapel could distinguish these important elements easily. It was originally placemd on a rooftop.
  • Artistic License – Religion: As many observers have pointed out, the sculpture depicts David as being uncircumcised which is a departure from Jewish custom. It is however in line with the artistic sensibilities of the Renaissance. Some have suggested that Michelangelo was trying to time-accurately show milah (the circumcision used before 2nd century AD, which only removed a bit of skin at the end) instead of periah (the whole circumcision established afterwards to make impossible to restore the foreskin), but it's very unlikely that Michelangelo would have had access to such info in his time and place, and the statue still shows no skin removed at all.
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  • Beauty Equals Goodness: The beauty of Michelangelo's David is meant to reflect the subject's holiness.
  • Bowdlerize: A plaster cast of the statue was made as a gift to Queen Victoria, and they felt that male nudity might offend someone, so a plaster fig leaf was made to use during the Queen's visits.
  • Cheated Angle: Michelangelo indulged in Artistic License – Biology to make David's hands and head larger so that they would be more visible when viewed from far below, since it was originally placed on a roof.
  • Contrapposto Pose: A classic, textbook use of the trope. Most of the statue's weight is put on David's right foot, raising his left shoulder a little higher and creating the illusion of a person about to go into motion. Also notice the tree stump behind David's right leg, which is there just to help the foot hold the weight of the rest of the stone.
  • David vs. Goliath: While Goliath is not portrayed to give a physical contrast, David's expression of sober determination as he gazes at his foe expresses the threat that Goliath poses.
  • Fish Eyes: Believe it or not, this sculpture has David's eyes move away from each other. Deliberate, because Michelangelo knew both eyes couldn't be viewed at once, and made each profile fill different artistic roles.
  • Heroic Build: Rather than depicting David as small like many other artists would, David is here seen as a Hellenistic ideal of manhood, with abundant muscles and pulsating veins.
  • Icon of Rebellion: The David connected with the people of Florence because they saw David's confidence in the face of mighty Goliath as a bar set for them in their struggle to maintain Florence's independence from the rest of Italy. It also helps that the David's Roman influence helped connect it to Florence's ideal of the Republic, which Florentines thought was in jeopardy from Italian tyranny. For a long time, the statue was placed in public before the Palazzo Vecchio. Today a replica stands there while the real one was moved indoors to protect it in 1873.
  • Implied Trope: The only thing Michelangelo sculpted here is David himself, but the king's ready weapon and decisive stare pretty clearly indicate the presence of The Antagonist, the mighty Goliath, off on the horizon of David's view.
  • Male Frontal Nudity: The David depicts the Jewish king within an idealized, muscular body without any clothing, allowing his full figure to be on display.
  • Messianic Archetype: David was often seen as a Foreshadowing of Christ in Michelangelo's day, so David is sculpted here to represent the peak of uncorrupted humanity that saw its fruition in Christ.
  • My Brain Is Big: David's unusually large head emphasizes his focus on the task of defeating Goliath, not by brute force, but with his wit and faith.
  • Name's the Same: Donatello also made two statues called David: a marble one which depicts him clothed and a nude (other than a hat and boots) made of bronze. Michelangelo's is much more famous in most of the world, but Donatello's nude is extremely well-known in Italy; their version of the Oscars is even based on it.
  • Politically Correct History: As a Jew, David should be circumcised, but since the Catholic Italians of the 1500s believed an uncircumcised figure to be more ideal, David is portrayed here with his foreskin intact.
  • Pretty Boy: David is depicted with a youthful and handsome appearance.
  • Suffer the Slings: The world's most famous slinger is holding his sling casually over his shoulder.
  • Trope Makers: Many scholars have attributed this statue as the thing that popularized the idea of stone statues being pristine and white due to a misconception on the statues that survived the Classical Era, the ancient Romans having originally painted some of their statues in bright colors before time faded them away.

The David appears in the following works:

  • In Children of Men, the protagonist's cousin and a high-ranking government official runs a Ministry of Arts programme called "Ark of the Arts", which "rescues" works of art. The David is among said works, albeit with a broken leg that's been replaced by an ugly prosthetic.
  • In Sin, Michelangelo stumbles upon his own work at the Piazza della Signoria when wandering in Florence at one point at the beginning.
  • In Itchy & Scratcy & Marge, the David is brought to Springfield and the local anti-indecency group wants to protest it because it depicts frontal male nudity.
  • Alien: Covenant. A sign of Peter Weyland's immense wealth is that he has David as a private ornament in his house. His eighth generation android decides to name himself after it.
  • The David statue is an available decoration in Animal Crossing: New Horizons, and is one of the statues that can be donated to the Museum. Notably, it is uncensored. Even its fake version, which shows David holding books in his right arm, is uncensored.
  • In one episode of SpongeBob SquarePants: Squidward goes on a rampage, destroying his art studio. It turns out that in this rampage he created a replica of Michelangelo's David, the same statue Spongebob had created earlier in the episode.