Accademia Gallery (Michelangelo's David)


Info

Opening hours: 8:15am-6:30pm Tuesday-Sunday.

Closing Days: Mondays, January 1, May 1, Christmas Day.

 

Don't forget to take a peek at the often overlooked collection of rare and historical musical instruments, the entrance is from the Hall of the Colossus. It includes the unique tenor viola and other stringed instruments by Antonio Stradivari (1644-1737), regarded as the finest stringed instruments ever created. A recent auction revealed how Stradivari's instruments are still very much valued, going for up to US$3.5 million.


Description

A visit to the Accademia Gallery is like a study in the technique of Michelangelo as a sculptor. In the main hall of the gallery are Michelangelo's famed Prisoners, also known as the Slaves, so-called for their seemingly “enslaved” appearance, trapped within the blocks of marble. Carved for the tomb of Pope Julius II (originally planned to be one of the most colossal tombs in history), Michelangelo had initially been commissioned to create 40 over-lifesize statues. He only managed to begin by carving a few of the forty, including two which can be now found in the Louvre museum in Paris, the Dying Slave and the Rebellious Slave. Seeing these unfinished “non-finito” sculptures gives us great insight into the unique techniques of the artist. Quite unusually, Michelangelo worked from the front of a block of marble to the back. Vasari likened this technique to the image of a figure lying in a bath of slowly emptying water, slowly revealing itself. Michelangelo's extremely advanced sense of the proportions of the human body is perfectly evident here, revealing a skill like no other artist in history.

It was in the dark depths of the morgue of the church of Santo Spirito in Florence that the young Michelangelo made a deal with the prior, Niccolò Bichiellini, to have permission to use the dead bodies for anatomical studies. He traded a wooden crucifix for access to the room full of cadavers. It was in fact during the Renaissance when there was a sudden interest in analysing and perfecting knowledge of correct human anatomy with artists like Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo delving into cadavers to study the mysteries of the body.

The story of David was ever-popular in art throughout the 15th century as a symbol of the strength and truth of good over evil. David was a young shepherd boy who fought against the giant, Goliath, to save his people, the Israelites.

The figure of David is depicted poised, focused and confident, before battle. He has no armour and is armed only with a sling, held in his left hand across his back, and a stone, in his right hand, which he uses to knock the giant down, before seizing his sword and beheading him with it.  From the front, we can study David's psychology – a relaxed body, weight gently shifted onto one leg in a contrapposto pose, the weight is clearly on the right leg, the left leg is free, but his veins and muscles are taut, ready for action, his brow is furrowed in an expression of concentration. His right hand is just beginning to tense and you can see his eyes have darted to his left.  His body is about to swivel and follow the head's movement, and so you  have this sense that David has just caught sight of his enemy and his body is just beginning to tense.  He's just preparing to meet Goliath.

Michelangelo's David was created for the Duomo and completed in 1504, when Michelangelo (1475-1564) was just a young man of twenty-nine. Instantly hailed as a masterpiece, it was decided it was too important to waste on the already busy exterior of the Duomo, and instead to give it its own place of pride, in the political heart of Florence, in Piazza della Signoria.

Despite the sculpture's precarious position in the open air, it survived several important incidents. A riot in 1527 saw the storming of the Palazzo Vecchio, when a bench thrown out of the window of the Palazzo came crashing onto David's left hand, breaking it off completely, and later lovingly put back together.

Three hundred odd years later, the weather, a couple of accidents and general wear and tear began to show its effects on the marble sculpture and attempts were made at protecting it in the form of a coating of hot wax. As soon as it was realised this was a terrible mistake, it was removed with hydrocholoric acid, stripping the natural marble of its original surface. By then it became clear an indoor setting was needed for David. In 1873 it was moved to its very own, specially-created space in the Accademia Gallery by means of a made-to-measure railway. A copy was created and replaced in Piazza della Signoria in 1910, so that David still guards over the city of Florence.

Ironically, one of the worst accidents David suffered was inside the museum itself. In 1991, an Italian artist, Piero Cannata, violently took a hammer to the sculpture, seriously damaging David's left toes.