Michelangelo’s iconic sculpture of David now stands in the Accademia Gallery in Florence, but that’s not where it was originally supposed to go. Before it was moved to the Accademia in 1873, it stood guard outside the Palazzo della Signoria, Florence’s city hall, for 370 years, but even that wasn’t where it was first meant to be.
David’s history actually begins a hundred years before Michelangelo picked up the chisel. It was commissioned by the Overseers of the Office of Works of the Duomo (the Operai), Florence’s cathedral church, as one of a dozen Old Testament-themed sculptures which would adorn the buttresses of the cathedral. Donatello made a Joshua out of terracotta for this project in 1410 (Joshua disappeared in the 18th century and has been lost ever since).
It wasn’t until 1464 that the organization commissioned a David sculpture from Agostino di Duccio, a student of Donatello’s. They gave him a massive block of Carrara marble, but he made little progress and 10 years later another student of Donatello’s, Antonio Rossellino, was given the commission. He couldn’t hack it either (no pun intended), so the huge block of marble just sat on its side in the yard of the cathedral workshop, exposed to the elements, until finally in August of 1501, the Overseers of the Office of Works of the Duomo gave the job to the 26-year-old Michelangelo.
It only took him just over 2 years to finish the 17-foot-tall statue. It was immediately recognized as a masterpiece, but now there was a whole new set of issues to wrestle over: how were they supposed to hoist 17 feet and 6.4 tons of marble up to the cathedral roof? Also, given that the dozen Biblical figures thing never really panned out, was the roof of the Duomo really the best place for this symbol of the Florentine Republic and its scrappy struggle against the tyrants who had sought to conquer it?
The Operai called a meeting in January 1504 of illustrious Florentine artists including Leonardo da Vinci, Sandro Botticelli, Andrea della Robbia and Perugino, among other luminaries, to determine where the David should be placed. Botticelli thought it should go somewhere on or around the cathedral, but most everyone else thought it should go somewhere in the Piazza della Signoria. The debate continued to rage for months, until finally the Operai decided on the spot in front of the entrance to the Palazzo della Signoria. After a 4 day procession, the David, carried through the city inside a wooden cage running on greased beams, was placed in its spot, powerful glare facing Rome.
There is no more wooden cage or greased beams, but last week a fiberglass cast of the David was piled onto the back of a pickup, driven to the Duomo, and hoisted up to the buttress the original was meant to adorn. Look how teeny he seems:
The installation is inaugural event of the Florens 2010 forum. Over the course of the week, fiberglass David was moved to the other locations proposed during the 1504 debate, like the Duomo’s sagrato (the consecrated area in front of the cathedral) and the piazza next to the Duomo’s workshop where Michelangelo worked on the sculpture.
You can see great footage of fiberglass David’s Duomo adventure this news story (in Italian):