Biblical Politics

As a disclaimer: These photos were taken during a visit in January 2016, so this post may not be representative of this site today.

After leaving the home of the Medici on Via Cavour, I went looking for a work of art that, though not created with an opposition against them in mind, was certainly, at least originally, displayed as such. I speak, of course, of the David by Michelangelo. What you see in this photo, however, is a copy, and to see the original you have to visit the Galleria dell’Accademia, where it was moved in the nineteenth century.

Galleria dell’Accademia

The Galleria dell’Accademia is mostly known for hosting the David, though it also holds other works by Michelangelo in its collection, as well as important pieces of art from the Trecento and Quattrocento (or, the 14th and 15th centuries in Italian history and art history). The gallery was founded in 1784 by the then Duke of Tuscany, Pietro Leopoldo, when he reorganized what Cosimo I de Medici had founded in 1563 as the Academy of Drawing Arts. It’s also the second most visited gallery in Italy, after the Uffizi.

The David was originally commissioned to sit atop Santa Maria del Fiore, and was meant to be part of a series of 12 statues of prophets. The work was first begun by Agostino di Duccio in 1464, who only got as far as to begin to shape the legs, feet, and the torso, and then taken up by Antonio Rosselinno in 1476, though it was left unfinished. The gigantic block of marble then sat neglected for nearly 30 years before Michelangelo came along and convinced the Overseers of the Office Works of Florence, responsible for the original commission, that he deserved to complete the David. He was granted the task in 1501, and finally completed it in 1503.

After the statue was completed, the logistics of raising a six-ton statue to the roof of the cathedral were finally recognized as being impossible. Placement for the statue then became a trending topic, with options including somewhere in or near the cathedral, as had been originally intended, under the roof of the Loggia dei Lanzi in the Piazza della Signoria, or in front of the Palazzo della Signoria (which is known today as the Palazzo Vecchio). This last one won the day, and the statue was placed there in June, 1504, replacing Donatello’s Judith (which had been confiscated from the Palazzo Medici when they were exiled in 1494 and had similar anti-tyrannical connotations).

Both David and Judith are biblical characters: David is a young shepherd who gains fame after killing Goliath in single combat in order to end a conflict between the Israelites and the Philistines. Similarly, Judith ingratiates herself to Holofernes, an Assyrian general sent by Nebuchadnezzar to oppress Israel, until she has a chance to kill him and save her people.

The placement of the David in front of the city’s town hall was meant to represent Florence’s heroic resistance against the tyranny of those who would seek to rule it against its republican principles. The Medici were, of course, at the very top of that list. The David was even placed in such a way that he was looking toward Rome, where the Medici had settled during their exile, so that it served as a direct warning for them to remain away.

The statue was moved to the Accademia in 1873 after cracks were noticed on one of the legs, though it was kept in a wooden box for about eight years until Emilio de Fabris completed a Tribune for it to be displayed. It wasn’t until 1910 that a replica was put in its place in front of the Palazzo Vecchio.

Besides the David, the Accademia’s sculpture collection includes unfinished works by Michelangelo, a plaster model (a rare sight) by Giambologna, and models of works by nineteenth century masters who studied or worked in the Accademia.

Model of the Rape of the Sabines by Giambologna

The museum also has an important collection of Trecento and Quattrocento painting, holding examples by Giotto, Sandro Botticelli, Domenico Ghirlandaio, and Filippino Lippi.

I have the utmost respect for old Medieval art, but goodness, do I get a giggle out of their facial expressions.

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