Seventeen feet tall and made of marble, the statue of David is one of the most famous statues in the world.
Michelangelo began this sculpture in 1501 and completed it on this date in 1504. The statue was paid for by the wool-workers of Florence, Italy, where the statue still stands; the wool-workers felt that David was a good symbol for their town because he was a shepherd and because he faced—and beat—the giant Goliath.
The statue shows David just as he is turning to face Goliath. He is considered to be sending a warning glare at the giant—and the statue was positioned to be sending this glare in the direction of the much larger and more powerful city of Rome.
The statue of David is still considered a symbol of the City of Florence, but it has been moved from its original position. It used to stand in front of the entrance to the Palazzo Vecchio, but it was moved indoors to the Accademia Gallery in order to protect it from damage. Unfortunately, it is hard to protect it from any and all possible damage. In 1991 a madman with a hammer attacked the statue and was able to damage one foot before he was stopped!
The original spot for the statue isn't empty—a replica stands there. There are a lot of replicas of this statue, all over the world, including a plaster cast in the Victoria and Albert Museum. Apparently, that particular replica has a detachable fig leaf that could be hung to cover the statue's nudity whenever Queen Victoria came to the museum!
I've seen several replicas of the statue, two of which were full size. I've also seen the original, and marveled at the beauty and the oversized hands. (If you ever see the statue or a replica, take a peek at how enormous the hands are! I read that the statue was originally intended to be on a cathedral roofline, so important parts of the sculpture had to be emphasized to be visible from below.)
I know that several of the replicas are supposed to be “exact copies,” hand-carved from the identical kind of marble (Carrara marble) from the same quarry where Michelangelo got his marble. I've heard that a sculptor copying a statue must make a lot of measurements with calipers, and must carve away very, very slowly, meticulously, constantly measuring and comparing to get the proportions exactly right. But...I still don't see how copies can be made so well!
Learn more about Michelangelo.
Art Smarts 4 Kids has an artist profile.
Michelangelo's David is an example of “subtractive sculpture,” which means carving away what you don't want to be part of a figure, rather than building up a figure with clay or other materials. Try to carve a bar of Ivory soap using a butter knife and a toothpick to see how difficult subtractive sculpture can be! (Of course, Michelangelo did carve soft soap—he carved hard marble!)
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