In search of David (and Part V)

by María Magdalena Ziegler

Although Michelangelo should had work with the idea that the sculpted giant would be placed at the top of the cathedral, it is likely that his choices on the position of that gallant figure were determined by the marble block itself. Would it be too much speculation on our part to say that Michelangelo intended to create a David to guard the city? Maybe, but we cannot rule out the possibility given the political moment of Florence back then.

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From the left angle, David looks menacing but also quiet in his wait for Goliath. Only from that angle the figure of the ancient Hebrew king seems challenging. The message, considering who had commissioned the sculpture, the character sculpted, the political turbulences of the time and the place where the work was finally located once completed, the conclusion should be: the objective is any other but Caesar Borgia. He had threated Florence before and the city was not willing to be defeated.

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Unfortunately, today is not possible to observe the original sculpture from that angle because its location on the beautiful dome of the Galleria prevents us. Even if we were to look and observe the replica that is in the Piazza della Signoria (the site of the original location of the sculpture), the situation of the work of Baccio Bandinelli, Hercules and Caco (1534), prevents David to show us the haughty attitude that Michelangelo designed to intimidate their enemies.

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While this may look like a colorful theory, Saul Levine indicates that the Florentine sculptor Andrea il Riccio (1470 – 1532) would have said that he found the statue so terrifying that he preferred it was placed in the courtyard of the Palazzo Vecchio, rather than its entrance, as

“I feared that such a thing in the Piazza seem too threatening to the Florentines themselves and that the malevolent gaze of the figure should not be directed to loyal citizens of the republic.”

To Levine is symptomatic that il Riccio referred to the sculpture as «such thing», which he suggests that the Florentines could had attribute to the famous Michelangelo’s terribilitá a sort of apotropaic sense embodied in the enthralling figure of David.

david-face

With his gaze turned to the south, with the Palazzo Vecchio behind him, David threat Rome, there is no doubt. And it is only when viewed from that cardinal point that the biblical hero plants himself ready and willing to defend the city. But to the joy of Florence, anyone who observes him from anywhere else, especially from the Piazza della Signoria, will find that the genius of Michelangelo was capable of giving simultaneously a splendid and serene figure of a beautiful young man who may well have composed the Psalm:

The Lord is my light and my salvation;

whom shall I fear?

The Lord is the strength of my life;

of whom shall I be afraid? (27 : 1)

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Gerard Von Honthorst, “King David Playing the Harp”, 1622 (detail)

[Read Part I, Part II, Part III and Part IV]

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