In 1501, twenty-six years of age, with the unsurpassed wake of his Pietá in Rome, Michelangelo is commissioned to obtain the desired figure from the marble block that everyone has already called useless. In the Archives of the Opera del Duomo rests the contract signed by the Guild with the Florentine artist. The document, dated on August 16, 1501, states:
The honorable gentlemen members of the Guild of the Wool and workers gathered in session (in the room) of this corporation, elect the master Michelangelo, son of Lodovico Buonarroti, Florentine citizen, to make and complete and finish to perfection some figure of a man started, called the ‘Giant’, made of marble, measuring 9 fathoms, belonging to the Guild, formerly begun by the master Agostino the Great of Florence, and started badly. The said work will be completed in almost two years, to date from the next September, the price and all payment will be 6 florins per month. This Guild is required to provide everything necessary, both frame and men and everything else needed for this work. When the work is finished, the brothers and workers elected at that time will judge whether to raise its price, and for this purpose shall be sent to their conscience.
WRITING ON THE EDGE: The saying Michelangelo has begun to work and sculpt the said Giant, on September 13th, 1501
Michelangelo would work nonstop for months. The famous ‘Giant’ would occupy most of his time and in the end, the city would surrender before a result believed impossible. Condivi tells us:
When Michelangelo answered [Guild’s members] that from that block he could make something good, it was offered to him. He accepted it and without adding any fragment, he made the statue already named [David]. He worked on it so cunningly in the surface of the marble that it still can be seen at the top of the head and at the base of the marble, its original wrapper (…) Michelangelo received for this work four hundred ducats, and executed it in eighteen months.
Giorgio Vasari (1511-1574), however, in his Vite de ‘più eccellenti architetti, pittori, et scultori italiani relates a quite different story. According to Vasari, Michelangelo would have been interested in getting the famous marble block, as had long wanted to prove that it was possible to carve an excellent figure without added to the original block, which was quite a technical feat. Members of the Opera del Duomo would have granted the block “as useless thing, thinking that any work would do better than the marble in the state it was in.” Vasari said that Michelangelo:
… made a wax model of a young David with his sling in his hand, which he intended to be placed as a symbol in the palace, to express that as David had defended his people, governed it with justice, that who ruled Florence should defend and govern it justly.