Word around town is that Michelangelo’s David has weak ankles. But who can blame the poor guy? He’s been standing for 510 years in the same contraposto pose, looking beautifully innocent with his crisp curls and dashing gaze. Experts have identified small cracks that are making him frail – and when you are the world’s most famous sculpture and you have been carved out of a single block of marble, then yes, by all means small cracks are something to worry about.
It’s no one’s fault really. When Michelangelo was commissioned by the city of Florence in 1501 to carve this colossal figure originally as an outdoor sculpture for the city’s Basilica, he made use of a 40 year-old piece of marble that belonged to no one. This chunk, cut from the famous, gleaming white peaks of Carrara (that once upon a time supplied the Roman empire for the construction of their monuments) had had two unsuccessful carving attempts by local artists. In order to avoid the hassle of getting a new piece, 26 year-old Michelangelo decided to use this one. Unfortunately, recent studies have been able to unveil that in addition to his ankle problem, the mediocre quality of the marble is due to microscopic pores inside it that have aided the crackling cracks. These studies were only possible because in 1993 a crazy Italian guy snuck in a hammer and smashed poor David’s foot, chipping it. These tiny chips are our only source for learning anything and everything about him.
Hypothetically, if dear David were to collapse; break down; fall on his knees, possibly weep, and leave a void in his place in the Academia in Florence where he has been standing since 1873, what impact would that have on us? What would it mean for art history?
David is not just a piece of stone; he is the pinnacle of high Renaissance art! 500 years ago man had a higher opinion of himself as seen in the sculpture’s youth and strength. They were living a re-birth of ideas, a revival of highlights of the past that allowed artists to portray man as beautiful. David‘s idealized form reflects what man was like at a certain point in time, not physically but ideologically. Of course he’s not the only artistic interpretation of David executed; of course men didn’t prance around naked slaying giants named Goliath with a slingshot; but they certainly seemed more optimistic
So why does it matter so much if his ankles have minor cracks? It matters because David serves as a constant reminder of of how men used to see themselves, and so he challenges our very perception of ‘man’ today according to religion and modernism. He’s fit, barrier-less, bold, virile, ideally beautiful, and a standing ovation to craftsmanship and actual raw talent that SOOOOOO many artists lack today. Forget that the great Michelangelo carved him, ask yourself, who can master marble carving or any technique as thoroughly as he could, today? I think you could probably count them with one hand.