Michelangelo’s David

In the High Renaissance, the feuding Italian city states were constantly at war with each other, when they weren’t at war with France or Spain. Perhaps the greatest rivalry of the city states was between Papal Rome under Cesare Borgia and Pope Alexander VI, and the idealistic (and relatively corruption free) Republican Florence under Piero Soderini, Niccolo Machiavelli, and the various merchant families (notably the recently deposed Medici).

For decades, the Office of Works for the Florence Cathedral wanted a series of Old Testament statues for the tops of the Duomo’s buttresses, but for various reasons little came of them. They were concerned for the hugely expensive block of magnificent Carrara marble exposed in the sacristy courtyard. At the behest of Leonardo Da Vinci, they commissioned 26 year old Michelangelo to sculpt Florentine David in direct defiance to Rome’s Goliath.

On 13 September 1501, Michelangelo began sculpting the colossal five m/17 ft David, which became one of the greatest achievements of High Renaissance art. The statue is of the young shepherd in the moments after he decided to fight the massive Philistine warrior Goliath, but before combat began. The tense, frightened, but observant David is poised but about to spring into action. The exquisitely and meticulously crafted sculpture took two years to finish.

A commission led by Da Vinci and Botticelli was so impressed with David that instead of placing it on Il Duomo, it be given a place of greater prominence. Michelangelo protested briefly because David was proportioned to be seen from below, but his concerns were dismissed. On 25 January 1504, David was unveiled at the entrance of the town hall in the Palazza Vecchio, gazing defiantly toward Rome.

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