When you study abroad, you have the opportunity to visit a plethora of churches and museums that are filled with priceless works of art. Some house extremely average works of art and some are lucky enough to be home to some of the world’s most famous pieces. Albeit after four months it can get old, but some pieces do stick with you, for better or for worse. I’ve been to the Louvre and seen the Mona Lisa…not impressed. I’ve seen the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona…extremely impressed. But the piece of art that stuck with me the most was housed a ten-minute walk from my apartment in Florence, Italy and his name is David.
Located on Via Ricasoli across from the fancy, modern art store that my roommate purchases her painting supplies from and the bus station where we caught the bus to the Fiorentina vs. Milan soccer game lays the Galleria dell’Accademia. Alongside the Uffizi, the Accademia is the most famous and most popular museum in Florence. The gallery itself only has three rooms on the main floor, along with a music room and a few less popular exhibits on the second floor. In all honesty though, the one and only piece of art people flock to this museum for is Michelangelo’s David.
At peak tourist season, the line wraps around the crusty mustard colored building and seems almost unbearable when combined with the sweltering summer humidity. Luckily, my roommate and I flashed our 30-euro museum cards that let us in for free and allowed us to bypass the line of tourists that gawked at our ability to enter so effortlessly. Once we were inside, I pretended to care after the random assortment of paintings that hung in the room preceding where the David is housed. My roommate and I looked at each other and without exchanging any words, left the room to go find David.
As we entered the next room, the corridor was flanked with busts and marble body parts. Each sculpted by Michelangelo because I think the museum curators knew if they put any other artist’s work next to his it would be almost demeaning. At the end of the walkway, standing underneath a brightly lit rotunda with a glass roof was the man, the myth and the perfectly sculpted marble legend – the David. Apparently, the best way to view the David is by lying on the ground, perpendicular to the base of the statue, but I was not about to do that.
I stood in front of him, it, the statue, and took it in for what it was – the most realistic non-human, human. Every muscle, vein, and limb crafted by Michelangelo was raw and realistic. Blood of stone and muscles of marble, it looked as if David’s breath and heart rate had been frozen in time. His gaze, framed by his curly locks, stares off into the distance, as if to be looking at something more important while everyone else in the room stares at him. Each cut of his abs was precise, calculated but somehow seemed genuine and lifelike. A tree root like base hugs his right leg to support the weight of the marble, but looks as though the statue was carved from nature; an accidental combination of Adam and David.
The attraction and allure of the David extends far beyond the visible beauty. The only parts of the David that are non-proportional to an actual human body are the hands, feet and head. This is because it was supposed to sit atop the cathedral attached to the Duomo and when people looked up at it, those body parts would look in proportion based on the angle. Instead, it stands ground level, and looks like an almost perfect mirror image of the dead body Michelangelo used as a muse for the sculpture. All great people have flaws, David included.
Unfortunately, the name David is not from Michelangelo’s mind, but rather taken from the biblical story of David and Goliath. Originally, Donatello had been commissioned to build the David. Donatello crafted a bronze sculpture, but with its floppy hat and delicate feather tickling his leg, it was deemed too feminine and so the task was passed on to Michelangelo. Donatello’s statue is in on display at the Bargello Museum, but is visited by far less people. Having seen both, Michelangelo’s definitely trumps Donatello’s, but it’s as if Michelangelo’s David was given the gold medal, the sponsorship, and the signing bonus while Donatello’s David earned the bronze medal and nothing more.
Before coming to Florence, I would have put money on the fact that the Mona Lisa would have made me smile or that the Parthenon would have made me feel like one of the worthless pieces of rumble that is so triumphantly rests upon. But, no the piece that floored me the most and had me in an existential state of awe was on display inside the museum in my backyard.
All Photography by Emily Houston