Galleria dell’Accademia and Michelangelo’s David

We had only one bad experience in our time in Florence, a brief visit to the Galleria dell’Accademia, which houses amongst other Renaissance treasures the original statue of David by Michelangelo. It was a very unsatisfactory visit.

The first reason it was unsatisfactory is that the volume of people flowing through the gallery far exceeds its ability to handle them. And the great majority of people are only there to see David. The statue is this permanently surrounded by an iPad-crested wave of people making any sort of consideration of the state impossible. You are far better considering the copy placed where the original long stood outside the Palazzo Vecchio.

The throng of people spreads out from David and washes too over Michelangelo’s ¬†four unfinished ‘Slave’ sculptures that the Galleria also holds (eloquently described here), and the Palestrina Pietra, an unfinished work which is uncertainly attributed to Michelangelo.

Whoever actually sculpted the Palestrina Pieta of Mary holding and mourning the body of the dead Christ it exudes a deeply moving passionate intensity to which you might believe that no-one would be immune. To watch visitors ask others to stand aside whilst they were photographed in front of it was therefore one of the most deeply offensive things I have ever seen. (Even more offensive I think than watching a woman move people aside so she could be photographed unobscured in front of Botticelli’s Birth of Venus; which we also witnessed).

This copy of Michelangelo's David stands outside the Palazzo Vecchio where the original stood until it was moved to the Galleria for protection. Whereas most images of David show him after he has fought Goliath, usually with Goliath's head at his feet, this shows David holding the sling in anticipation of the battle.
This copy of Michelangelo’s David stands outside the Palazzo Vecchio where the original stood until it was moved to the Galleria for protection. Whereas most images of David show him after he has fought Goliath, usually with Goliath’s head at his feet, this shows David holding the sling in anticipation of the battle.

Which brings us on to David itself. However hard I tried, I could not find it in myself to enjoy or marvel in this sculpture. It may simply be that it is such a cliched image that it is impossible to consider it objectively. It may be that once you realise that the head and the hands are out of proportion to the body (perhaps because it was originally intended to be positioned on the roof of the Duomo and therefore seen from below and at a distance) it is hard to look past those points. Whatever the reason I find the image that of a limp and self-absorbed youth with whom it is difficult to find any connection. It is, like Botticelli’s Venus, an image which has been so appropriated by contemporary culture that it hard to see it as anything else than emblematic of that culture.