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Michelangelo’s David

If you only see one statue on your trip to Italy, Michelangelo’s David is the one. “To tell the truth, this work eclipsed all other statues both modern and ancient,” wrote the great art historian Giorgio Vasari about its unveiling in 1504. Its prestige has only grown in the ensuing 500 years. It’s a work both strikingly familiar yet overwhelmingly larger than life, a statue you have seen innumerable times before, yet it still reveals new secrets every time you see it. No postcard or picture can do it justice. To stand in the room at the Accademia in Florence with this titanic marble statue – it’s almost 17 feet tall – is to experience humanity on the grandest possible scale and feel both dwarfed by it, yet strangely ennobled. There is nothing quite like it in the world of art. It’s not the most emotional or even the most moving of Italy’s great marble sculptures but it is the most awe-inspiring.  

Michelangelo's David in the Accademia of Florence.
Michelangelo's David in the Accademia of Florence.
David with two of Michelangelo's unfinished sculptures in the foreground
David with two of Michelangelo's unfinished sculptures in the foreground
He looks pretty good for 500 years old, no?
He looks pretty good for 500 years old, no?
One of the most famous jaw-lines in history.
One of the most famous jaw-lines in history.
Note the tree branch on David's right leg - it adds support to the somewhat delicate statue.
Note the tree branch on David's right leg - it adds support to the somewhat delicate statue.
Michelangelo's David in the Accademia of Florence.
David with two of Michelangelo's unfinished sculptures in the foreground
He looks pretty good for 500 years old, no?
One of the most famous jaw-lines in history.
Note the tree branch on David's right leg - it adds support to the somewhat delicate statue.

Visiting Michelangelo’s David: What to See

The David Sculpture

The story of Michelangelo’s David begins with a mistake. While Michelangelo was in Rome sculpting the Pietá for St. Peter’s Cathedral, A florentine Master named Simone da Fiesole badly botched a job on a giant piece of marble that had been destined for the roof of the Florence Cathedral. Large blocks of marble were expensive and tough to get your hands on so Michelangelo, just 26, returned to his native Florence to plead his case for the block. He was up against no less than Leonardo Da Vinci and Jacopo Sansovino, but crucially, no one believed the block could be hewn into a figure without adding additional pieces of marble. No one, that is, except Michelangelo. After inspecting the mutilated block, which already had a large hole cut in it that would become the space between David’s legs, he declared that he could cut an entire figure from the single stone. It’s unclear whether the trustees of the works department at Florence Cathedral actually believed him, or just figured that the stone was a lost cause anyway, but they gave it to him and he set to work.

Michelangelo worked on the statue in relative secrecy for three years. His choice of David – the biblical hero who slew a giant with only his sling and a sharp sword – was a safe and well-established choice. Like many statues of David stretching back to the ancient greeks, he used a “contrapposto” pose (weight on one foot, shoulders twisted off-axis from the hips) to show intended movement. Unlike all the past Davids, he didn’t depict the hero in his moment of victory, but at the exact moment before he hurls a rock at the head of the waiting giant. It’s a moment of extreme pathos, almost cinematic in its scope, an entire story told in form, posture, and expression.

It’s unclear whether or not Michelangelo intended his statue for the roof of the cathedral. Certain elements, like the overly large head and hands, seem to indicate this. But when Michelangelo finished the monstrosity there was no question that it was going to have to remain firmly on the ground. For many years, it sat in the Piazza de Signoria in Florence with gold gilding covering David’s sling and the tree branch near his foot (which Michelangelo cleverly included providing more structural support). However, in order to protect it from the elements, which eventually stripped its gilding, the statue was moved into the Accademia where it can be seen today.

When you go, make sure to walk all the way around the statue. Notice how the expression changes when viewed from the front, as compared to the popular view from the side. Admire the musculature in the legs and the veins in the arms. Check out those immense hands! There really is no sculpture on earth quite like it so linger over it and enjoy a bonafide wonder of art.

Tips for Visiting Michelangelo’s David

Opening Times

The Galleria d’Accademia in Florence is open Tuesday through Sunday from 8:15am to 6:50pm. The ticket offices close at 6:20pm, and the museum itself starts closing at 6:40pm.

The museum is closed every Monday, January 1, May 1, and December 25.

In order to accommodate people the museum is usually open on Holidays. However, if the holiday falls on a Monday it’s up to the board of directors to decide whether or not to open. Whatever they decide will be announced on the Accademia’s website

Tickets

The Accademia offers three types of tickets: Full, Reduced, and Free

Full(price) tickets are for any non-EU citizen 18 and over and any EU citizens 25 and over. There is no senior citizen discount.

Reduced tickets are available for EU citizens between 18 and 25 with any valid ID and public school teachers from within the EU with proof of their position.

Free entrance is given to anyone under 18 years old regardless of nationality with proper identification, people with certifiable physical disabilities who are accompanied by a family member, ICOM (International Council of Museums) members, and journalists with a valid ID showing professional status.  

Rules

School groups MUST book their visit ahead of time by contacting the following address: firenzemusei@operalaboratori.com

The museum is entirely wheelchair accessible, so unlike many of the most famous attractions in Italy, it’s easy to get around for those with impaired mobility.

There is a strict no-photo policy in the Accademia. Even having a camera on your neck is grounds for a strong reprimand from the guards. Do yourself and fellow visitors a favor and just enjoy the art with your eyes.

The Best Time to See Michelangelo’s David

The Accademia always has a line out front and the later you go in the day the longer it gets. It isn’t as long as the line to climb Florence’s Duomo but it’s long enough. There are two good ways to avoid it. First, you can visit the museum with a guided tour that includes skip-the-line access. You can also book your own tickets online for a particular day and time. Be aware that tickets do sell out so book them as soon as you know your travel dates. If you want to keep your itinerary loose, the best option is to show up outside the museum at least half an hour before it opens so you can be one of the first people in line to buy your ticket for that day.

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