David by Michelangelo

Michelangelo's David was commissioned in 1501 by the wealthy Florence City Council. Noted for its immense size, over fourteen feet tall, the importance of David can only be fully appreciated when one considers the historical circumstances of its creation.

Michelangelo's David
Michelangelo's David, heroic in form and stature at
14 feet 3 inches tall (excluding the base) presides
over the Galleria dell'Accademia in Florence.

In 1501, the Florentine Republic was asserting its newly found independence from Medici rule. Under constant threat from aggressors, Michelangelo accepted the commission in 1501 to create a gigantic model of heroic youth for one of the buttresses of the Duomo, or cathedral, a structure of enormous civic and spiritual significance to the city of Florence.

The enormous marble block given to Michelangelo for the task had been abandoned forty years prior by sculptor Agostino di Duccio and was badly damaged by exposure. Once the David was completed, there was reluctance to relegate such a magnificent work to a high spot on the cathedral. It was eventually decided that the David should stand in front of the Palazzo Vecchio, as a symbol of the new republic.

Michelangelo's David, Rear View
Rear view of Michelangelo's David.

It was Michelangelo's intention that the finished David would serve as more than just a fierce protector of the city. While the figure is menacing, there is no indication that he is fueled by aggression. There exists no tension in his considerable arms or legs. Indeed, the political symbolism of the work conveys a warning to fellow Florentines that "Whoever governed Florence should govern justly and defend it bravely...eyes watchful...." The David embodies the Renaissance sensibility of force tempered by intellect.

Michelangelo's David, Detail Torso
Detail view of the torso of Michelangelo's David.

Michelangelo's David is young but far from immature, and Michelangelo endows the figure with the knotted muscles of an athlete, a massive rib cage, and a confident stance. The huge scale of the sculpture contributes to the figure's threatening and authoritative presence as the young hero is shown keeping watch over the city.

Michelangelo's David, Detail Hand
Detail view of the hand of Michelangelo's David.

Michelangelo was careful to temper the athletic warrior with spiritual attributes fitting a young biblical hero. As he carries the stone loosely in his right hand and the sling lies over his left shoulder, David expresses in his quiet stance the superiority of inner strength over brute force.

Not all of Michelangelo's sculptures continued to be as large or as ambitious as the David. See the next section in this article for information on the Pitti Madonna.

To learn more about Michelangelo, art history, and other famous artists, see: