In search of David (Part IV)

Michelangelo, “David”, 1504 (at Galleria dell’Accademia, Florence)

Beyond all the interesting anecdotes about the figure of David, should not be forgotten that this figure has a long symbolic heritage derived not only from the Bible but also from Antiquity. It is even likely that the biblical account is fed (even indirectly) of the stories about Hercules or other characters in the mythology of neighboring cultures (friendly or not).

However, under the clear dome of the Galleria dell’Accademia in Florence, stands gallant image of the Jewish king that Michelangelo created. In a sense, the Italian artist acted as a historian when shaping the figure of the biblical character and could had follow some of the previous models that were then available.

Benedetto Antelami, “David”, 1215

The bearded king of medieval the biographical sketch, sculpted by Benedetto Antelami in 1215 for the facade of the Cathedral of Borgo San Donino could had been one option. But also the teen and peaceful stamp of the hero who had created Donatello and Verrocchio in 1430 and 1475, respectively, could had serve as models to Michelangelo.

Donatello, “David”, 1430
Verrocchio, “David”, 1475

Instead, Michelangelo took another way. He did not follow the image of the venerable and wise king, nor the image of the quiet achiever boy to whom the glory had smiled. This new David is not a conquering hero, for he do not have at his feet the severed head of the enemy.

As Linda Murray has expressed:

“This is the David of surveillance, faith and hope.”

The reason is clear: Florence demanded that it from citizens at the time in which Michelangelo created the image of a young man latent with power, with all its potential content in the vibration of his muscles and veins, with the focus on the enemy and mind designing the subsequent action.

Even the position of the character that Michelangelo has chosen is indicative of its symbolism. David is a warning to the enemy. Moreover if we observe this effigy from the left flank and not facing as has accustomed us its magnificent scenery in the Galleria dell’Accademia. Thus, we would have the best observation point designed by the artist for his part.

[Read Part I, Part II and Part III]

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