The David

We had already decided that our first full day in Florence was going to be Art Day. The two prime stops for this purpose are the Galleria dell Accademia which houses Michaelangelo’s David and the Galleria degli Uffizi, one of the great art museums in the world. the Accademia is fairly small and easy to navigate, so we bought tickets online for the morning. The Uffizi, though, is huge, so for that one we arranged a tour for the afternoon.

So, off we went from our hotel to the 23 bus which stops right around the corner and then winds its way through the heart of Florence. After a very scenic ride we were soon deposited in front of the Accademia. After they take your tickets you just follow the arrows, or the crowd, if you prefer. Soon you end up in a large room at the center of which is a plaster reproduction of Giambologns’s Rape of the Sabine Women. Since you’ll see the original in a later post, we’ll move on.

So, you leave this room and enter the Hall of the Captives. You enter at one end and at the other is this guy:


But not so fast, my friends. As you head for the David you can’t help but notice some other statues, or blocks of marble along the walls. These are the Captives. Michelangelo was once hired to create statues for the tomb of Pope Julius II. Well, it wasn’t long till the Pope became a little strapped for funds. First he reduced the scale of the project, then later he dropped it altogether. Michelangelo went on to work on other projects and these guys were never finished. They were found after his death and eventually made their way back to Florence.

So, we have figures trying to make their way out of the marble, but now forever captive. Let me introduce you!

The Atlas


The Bearded Slave



The Young Slave



The Awakening Slave


In addition to being eerie, the value of the Captives is to show how Michelangelo worked. Most sculptors, apparently, work from a plaster models and match points on the model to points on the marble. Michelangelo, however, worked free-hand with no model. Somehow he knew where to stop taking out big chunks and what to leave in to make veins, tendons, and so on. The whole process is a mystery to me. So, let’s take a look at a finished product:


Not only is he perfectly sculpted, he stands fourteen feet tall. You can look at picture after picture of this guy, but nothing prepares you for the real thing.

When he was first commissioned by the Vestry Board, the idea was that he would be one of a series of statues hoisted up into niches of the  Florence Cathedral. You may recall the story of how Michelangelo was given a marble block to work with that had been previously rejected by other sculptors as too imperfect. Michelangelo, though, saw the potential. He was only 24 years old when he began the project. Working in seclusion for several years, at long last one January day in 1504 he invited he invited the Vestry board in to see the finished product. You can only imagine how they must have felt when they saw it for the first time.

Immediately they realized that they couldn’t just stick this guy up on a niche. Instead they commissioned a panel, which included Leonardo Di Vinci, Sandro Botticelli and Giuliano da Sangalloand along with 27 other prominent Florentines. Eventually they decided to place it outdoors in the Piazza della Signoria, the heart of Florence. It took 40 men four days to move it from  Michelangelo’s workshop to the new location. There it remained from 1504 to 1893, when somebody finally realized that the weather was doing some real damage. It was then moved to the Accademia.and restored.

Rick Steves says when you look in the eyes of David you see the face of the Renaissance man:



And there is discussion about his large right hand.



Talk about fine work! David’s sling is cardboard thin. After the statue was moved to its permanent home, Michelangelo came back and did some finish work on it. One thing he did was to gild the sling. He also added a gilded crown, all of which was lost over time.





What else is there to say?

Most of the rest of the Accademia is a collection of plaster models of other works of art:



At the other end of the Hall of Captives is this, a bust of Michelangelo:


This bust was the work of Daniele Ricciarelli, who was a friend and student of the sculptor. Michelangelo lived to the age of 88 and obviously this is in his later years. You will see other works depicting Michelangelo in future posts, always with the same sad expression.

Ricciarell, by the way, became famous in his own right as the painter who covered up the genitals of the figures in Michelangelo’s “Last Judgement” in the Sistine Chapel at the request of one of the more conservative Popes. He painted a tasteful selection of breeches and loin cloths.