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Michelangelo’s David Turns 500 and Still Turns On

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    Posted: 07-Sep-2004 at 00:33



By Philip Pullella

FLORENCE (Reuters) - Most women would agree he has a very nice rear end. Tall and handsome, he has the kind of Baywatch muscles that would make many of both sexes drool.

Reuters Photo

Reuters Photo
Slideshow Slideshow: Michelangelo's David


One small detail: he is about to celebrate his 500th birthday. He is Michelangelo's statue of David.

"I knew he was old but I wasn't aware he was turning 500," said Pat Fisico, a Canadian on holiday in Florence on Monday. "I don't think he looks a day over 22 ... I hope he will be around for another 5,000 years."

So do Florentine officials who are preparing to fete the birthday boy in his birthday suit.

On Wednesday, 500 years to the day that the icon of Renaissance male beauty was unveiled for the people of Florence, his modern-day co-citizens are kicking off a year of events to celebrate David in style.

There will be concerts, fireworks, symposiums and exhibitions. There is, of course, an official David 500 T-shirt.

But most of all, arts officials want the half-millennium of one of the world's most famous nude statues to get people looking forward and not only backwards.

"Florence is seen as a Disneyland of the Renaissance," said Antonio Paolucci, superintendent of city museums.

"We want David's 500th birthday to spark debate, to be controversial, to challenge people about what art is today, not just what it was 500 years ago," he said on Monday at a conference presenting the birthday events at the Accademia museum where David has been displayed since 1873.

To chisel home the connection between old art and new art, the wing that houses David will be cleared of Renaissance paintings. They will be replaced by contemporary works inspired by the statue of the muscular shepherd boy who slew Goliath.

Five artists -- George Baselitz, Luciano Fabro, Jannis Kounellis and Robert Morris -- will show their works in the shadow of the statue Florentines call "Il Gigante" (the giant).


They include a minimalist, a photographer and, what might seem a horror to some, an artist who works in plastic.

"We have to bring to Florence the same caliber of artists that Michelangelo was in his day," said Franca Falletti, the Accademia's director. "Otherwise it remains a mummified city."

A 26-year old Michelangelo sculpted David, who is more than 4 meters high, between 1502 and 1504 from a single piece of poor quality marble other sculptors had rejected.

Earlier this year, restorers gave the symbol of the Florentine Republic a controversial eight-month mild cleaning, an intervention some called a $600,000 sponge bath.

Paolucci on Monday dismissed critics who feared the statue might be damaged. He said the final results showed that David was just cleaner. "He's the David we always knew," he said.


David, who wears only his slingshot, has seen the best and the worst of times in Italy's premier Renaissance city.

In 1527, he lost the lower half of his left arm in a riot. In 1810, the statue was covered with a protective wax and in 1843 an attempt to remove the wax with hydrochloric acid also stripped away some of the original patina.

In 1991, a crazed Italian artist smashed one of his toes with a hammer.

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