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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 normally is strict about adhering to the norms of 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. The break from reality is also a result of the original placement of the statue on a rooftop. Looking at it at that height and at that angle, the excess height, head size, and hand size are actually correct.
  • Beauty Equals Goodness: The beauty of Michelangelo's David is meant to reflect Dave's holiness, which is why he has features that would not be expected of a Iron Age Jewish boy, like a seventeen foot figure or an uncircumcised penis. Michelangelo considered those traits to be signs of ideal beauty and perfection, so when depicting an ancestor of Christ, he took artistic liberties to convey David's virtues visually.
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  • 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: As seen elsewhere on this page, Michelangelo, as knowledgeable in anatomy as he was, cheated the proportions here and there so that David would look good when viewed from its original location.
  • Contrapposto Pose: A classic, textbook use of the trope.
  • Cowardly Lion: Although it's not immediately obvious when viewed from the ground, when seen from head on the look of fear and trepidation on David's face is obvious, as it would be on any sane person about to fight a nine foot mutant. And yet he stands tall with his sling at the ready, a testament to the fact that courage is the mastery of fear rather than its absence.
  • David vs. Goliath: Uniquely for a depiction of the famously disadvantaged David, Averted Trope; we get no sculpture of Goliath for reference, but 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.
  • 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, pulsating veins, and a figure seventeen feet high.
  • 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, includinghispenis.
  • 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 nudenote  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.
  • The Perfectionist: David has long been praised as absolute perfection of human anatomy (not counting the deliberate alterations above). Michelangelo 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 anatomy flaw 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 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: David is holding his sling casually over his shoulder, as his face records his confidence in doing battle with Goliath.
  • 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.


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