How was Michelangelo's statue of David carved in marble?

Michelangelo's David, 1501–1504. marble, 517×199 cm. Accademia Gallery, Florence.

Now beloved, now censored, the statue of Michelangelo's David Buonarroti (Caprese Michelangelo, 1475 – Rome, 1564) is still talked about five hundred years after its completion. But how was the work preserved at the site realised, in practice Accademia Gallery of Florenceand one of which is on display copy outside of Palazzo Vecchio?

Emblem of Renaissance and symbol of the city of Florence, the work taller than 5 meters (base included) is a tribute to the namesake biblical hero as he prepares to face the giant Goliath. Created by Michelangelo when he was 26 years old, the David was not a simple test: the block of marble, already entrusted to two artists before him (who had given up) and recycled, was crumbly and it was like that strict which was thought to leave little room for intervention. Despite this, the young artist (well aware of himself) accepted the commission of the consuls of the Arte della Lana and the Opera del Duomo of Florence, which was initially planned for the exterior of the cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, and began to work on it 9 September 1501.

Michelangelo worked marble “all-round”that is, without a backdrop, using hammer and chisel: the artist's famous quote according to which he would sculpt the block of marble to “free” the statue imprisoned inside it. His first work was studying the marble, thanks to which he understood that the left part of the block was weaker. Thanks to his understanding and ability also in architecture – after all, he designed the Basilica of St. Peter – Michelangelo assisted the stone right from the rough-hewn phase and placed the weight on the right leg of David, which in fact is strengthened by a small trunk that has a static function.

Leonardo da Vinci, study of Michelangelo's David (detail), Royal Library, Windsor

Then he continued his work with the tools of the trade of the time: in addition to hammers and chisels (flat and with tempered tips), he used tools such as rasps and the lime for finishing and polishing. To refine the appearance of the work, Michelangelo applied various tricks. First of all, his attention to him helped him the anatomy, that he studied throughout his life. Since the marble had holes and cracks (the “taroli”), the artist then proceeded to fill them with lime mortar, which he then sanded giving it the smooth and realistic look we know. Then there is the question of prospectwhich had to be accommodated by altering the proportions of the work: the head and the arm David's are much larger compared to a scale model, because most people he would have seen the statue from below.

Another detail is the perforation of the pupils, which created a play of shadows that avoided reflections and made the eyes more realistic and penetrating (even if today we know that they are slightly cross-eyed). Compared to other more or less contemporary Davids, this one is very powerful, almost aggressive, and at the same time very graceful and technically perfect: he is an idealized man. Also for this reason his penis it's notorious “small”: as already among the Greeks, this was a symbol of moderation, a gift of the warrior and of man in general.

The result was handed over to the Florentines in 1504and five hundred years later – and many restorations later, including the one due to lightning and those following various attacks – represents, for many, theideal of male beauty in art.

Michelangelo's David, 1501–1504. marble, 517×199 cm. Accademia Gallery, Florence. Photo Commonists via Wikimedia