Weighing A Masterpiece


David was originally intended for the buttress of the Florence Cathedral. But William E. Wallace figures that Michelangelo knew that at a weight of 8.5 tons, devising a proper support system for the sculpture would be “an impossible task.” The artist “realized the impossibility of the job from the earliest moment, even before he began carving the figure,” insists Wallace. “This realization, in effect, liberated him”:

Given the familiarity of the David, it is difficult for us to appreciate just how novel it is. Despite many highly regarded precedents in Florentine art for the representation of David, Michelangelo carved a unique work: an oversize, illogically nude figure with almost no identifying attributes. One could hardly imagine a more peculiar means of representing the young shepherd boy of the Bible, nor a more inappropriate figure to adorn the cathedral. I believe David looks as it does because Michelangelo, realizing that it would not be placed on the cathedral buttress, was free to carve a completely original work. And that is precisely what he did.

(Photo by John W. Schulze)