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Art / David

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"The LORD who saved me from lion and bear will also save me from that Philistine."

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.

It stands alongside Statue of Liberty as one of the most referenced sculptures in history.

The David provides examples of:

  • Artistic Licence – Anatomy: Michelangelo was normally strict about adhering to human anatomy, but he made the hands and head of David overly large. This is believed to be a deliberate choice to balance out foreshortening, which would've been more of a concern than usual since the statue was originally intended to be placed on a rooftop.
  • Artistic License – Religion: The sculpture depicts David as uncircumcised, which is a departure from Jewish custom. It is, however, in line with the artistic sensibilities of the Renaissance.
  • Beauty Equals Goodness: The beauty of Michelangelo's David is meant to reflect the subject's holiness rather than be an accurate depiction of his physical appearance. As such David is a flawless man, deep in thought, and full of life.
  • Bible Times: It depicts the Biblical David, not yet a king, in the moment before he fights the Philistine Goliath.
  • 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 Licence – Anatomy 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 there's no sculpture of Goliath for reference, David is certainly larger here than any man could expect to be. There is no attempt here to portray David as an underdog or less physically endowed. The implication of Goliath remains, however, in David's expression of disquiet and concern—his brow is furrowed, his glance is sidelong and slightly raised towards something above him, and there is a slight downturn to his lips.
  • Fish Eyes: The sculpture has David's eyes pointing slightly away from each other. Michelangelo knew both eyes couldn't be viewed at once, so he made each profile fill a different artistic role.
  • Full-Frontal Assault: David — armed with his slingshot, ready to go fight Goliath — isn't wearing any clothes or armor.
  • Gold and White Are Divine: Greco-Roman sculptures are white because the paint faded with time. The David, however, was never meant to be colored. Its all-white appearance, instead, is there to further highlight David's holiness as one of God's chosen ones.
  • Heroic Build: David being small — or at least, smaller than Goliath — is a plot point in his story. But 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.
  • It's Not Porn, It's Art: On at least two different occasions, David was accused of being inappropriately ribald thanks to its stark depiction of male nudity.
    • During the Victorian era, a replica of the statue was given hooks in order to attach a fig leaf whenever Queen Victoria and other important ladies visit.
    • In 2023, a middle school principal in Florida was fired after a parent complained that an art teacher's use of the statue in a sixth grade class constituted child endangerment.
  • Male Frontal Nudity: The David depicts its subject with 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.
  • One-Word Title: The statue is simply named "David".
  • The Perfectionist: The David has long been praised as the absolute perfection of human anatomy. Michelangelo Buonarrotti worked for two years straight on David, sleeping rarely and eating sparsely. There are hundreds of tiny details that you can see, from the raised veins on his hand from the grip on the stone to the small genitals, not only standard for the time and area but also an example of pre-battle shrinkage. The only notable anatomical flawnote  is that of a missing muscle in the back. But it was necessary. A flaw in the block of marble prevented Michelangelo from carving it, as mentioned in a letter he released at the time of finishing. It's the same flaw (among others) that had the block of marble sitting in a plaza for 40 years before Michelangelo took a chance.
  • Politically Correct History: As a Jew, David should be circumcised, but since the statue was made by and for Catholic Italians of the 1500s, who 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. He's certainly fit but not overly muscled and his face is made of soft angles. His curly hair helps complete the picture.
  • Protagonist Title: The statue is named "David" after its subject, King David of Israel.
  • Suffer the Slings: The world's most famous slinger is holding his sling casually over his shoulder, preparing to hurl a rock at Goliath's head.
  • Trope Makers: Many scholars attribute to this sculpture the popular misconception of stone statues being pristine and white all along. While Michelangelo Buonarroti's David is like this, the ones that survived the Greco-Roman period were originally painted in bright colors and their actual state is a consequence of time fading them away.
  • White Is Pure: King David is represented as the embodiment of Christian virtue — unwavering in his faith in God and exhibiting fortitude (one of the seven cardinal virtues) and moral purity. He is sculpted on white marble.