Why We Missed Michelangelo’s Masterpiece
Images of Florence © 2014 Mufidah Kassalias
Despite his disproportionately large head and hands, Michelangelo’s David is one of the main attractions in Florence and, for some, a major reason to visit the capital city of Tuscany. Sure, his rear view is rather attractive, but after seeing the 1910 replica outside the Palazzo Vecchio, David’s original home — if not his intended one on the roofline of the Cathedral — neither of us felt moved to pay to see the real thing in the Galleria dell’Accademia. A somewhat sacrilegious decision? Not exactly.
David has become a cliché.
A quick study of postcard racks in Florence and the general obsession with David is apparent. Photographed from all angles, and occasionally sporting an intimate crop, Michelangelo’s marble masterpiece has been cheapened to feed mass tourism and the growing trend to collect cultural experiences, where checking off destinations on ever longer been-there-done-that lists has become an end in itself.
Basilica di Santa Maria Novella — Details © 2014 Mufidah Kassalias
Beyond David, Florence is full of Renaissance architecture with the majority of the city being built during the Rinascimento era. The Basilica di Santa Maria Novella, above, is a fine example of an early Renaissance church with construction starting in 1246, two hundred and fifty-five years before Michelangelo began work on David.
The sculpture was commissioned by the Operai (Overseers of the Office of Works of Florence Cathedral) but Michelangelo wasn’t the first to hammer a chisel into the huge block of Carrara marble. The job had previously been given to two of Donatello’s students — Agostino di Duccio and, later, Antonio Rossellino — the first of whom was overwhelmed by the task, getting no further than a rough carving of the legs and feet over the course of ten years, while Rossellino lost his contract with the Operai and was unable to take it any further.
After lying abandoned for twenty-five years the six-ton piece of marble was given to Michelangelo, who took just over two years to carve it into the 17-foot high sculpture that we all know so well. However, it was only after the work was finished that the Operai realised the impossibility of hoisting such an enormous weight onto the Cathedral roof. Immediately they called together a group of 30 Florentine citizens, including Leonardo da Vinci and Sandro Botticelli, to discuss an alternative location. Months of disagreement passed before agreeing to place David outside the town hall in the Piazza della Signoria, where he was unveiled on 8 September 1504.
The Florentines greeted David with appreciation and awe. It was love at first sight. And, over the course of time, Florence’s love affair with David has not only grown but also infected the rest of the world.
Sadly, this love affair has become as superficial as collecting destinations. David’s ubiquitous image has desensitised us to his magnificence, leaving little room for anything deeper than ensuring he’s checked off our personal bucket list.
Instagram Images of Florence © 2014 Mufidah Kassalias
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Mufidah Kassalias is a writer, photographer and slow-travelling digital nomad. She’s also Co-Founder & COO of CreativeThunder.co, working with creative businesses and individuals, worldwide, to build tribes of loyal customers via strategic websites, visual storytelling and social media.