“No other artwork is equal to David in any respect.” — Giorgio Vasari
Here’s my guide to seeing Michelangelo’s David at Florence’s Galleria dell’Accademia. David is one of Florence’s top attractions.
David is arguably the world’s most famous sculpture. It’s a beautiful piece of art displayed in a beautiful setting.
The 17 foot Renaissance statue is considered the embodiment of male beauty. He’s a Calvin Klein-like model of physical perfection.
People flock to the Accademia in droves to see David. After the Uffizi Gallery, the Accademia is Florence’s most visited museum. The crowds are so legion that they actually block traffic.
In this guide, I give you a history and analysis of the marvel of David. Perhaps more importantly, I tell you how to skip the line at the Accademia to see the famed statue in person.
History and Facts About Michelangelo’s David
1. David Theme
David is based on an Old Testament story of an underdog and his giant competitor. David was a young man brave enough to take on the evil enemy, Goliath, on behalf of the Israelites. He went into battle without armor.
Guided partly by the magical hand of God, David defeats Goliath with an unorthodox choice of weapon — a slingshot and a stone. His aim is true, the stone akin to a bullet.
David hits a lumbering Goliath in the center of his forehead. Goliath falls to the ground and David cuts off his head.
Florence’s Signoria, or City Council, commissioned a statue of this triumphant underdog for Florence Cathedral.
The city intended to place the statue high above in a niche. A massive block of marble dubbed “the giant” was procured from the Frantiscritti quarry in Cararra.
2. Michelangelo’s Commission
Two other sculptors were given the commission before Michelangelo. But they made little headway with the massive block of marble and gave up. The marble became “the block that couldn’t be carved.”
In 1501, in stepped Michelangelo. He was still relatively young, at age 26.
There was intense interest in David. Michelangelo worked on the sculpture in isolation, hidden way from prying eyes.
When David was unveiled, the City Council was stunned. They decided that David was too beautiful for the top of the Duomo.
The statue was unveiled in September 1504. The city fell in love with the sculpture. The citizens deemed it a powerful symbol of the renewed Florentine republic, ready to defend itself.
3. The Wounds of David
David hasn’t lead the easiest life. In 1512, the statue was stuck by lightening. It didn’t do much damage, but changed the weight bearing.
In 1527, republican insurgents threw stones and a bench out of the second floor window of the Palazzo Vecchio. The bench smashed off David’s left arm and nicked off other bits.
In 1873, after 369 years, David was moved inside to the Accademia, after a new gallery was built for the statue. Officials moved it inside for conservation and to avoid further weather related damage.
Florence had to build a special crate to transport David, which was a task in and of itself. A scale model of the crate with David is in the Casa Buonarroti museum.
Originally, parts of David were gilded. But the gilded surfaces were lost during the statue’s exposure to the elements.
David was also originally polished. The polish is long gone. You can see a couple places where the marble is eroded, like the top of his right shoulder. Centuries of rain also flattened down David’s curls.
In 1991, a deranged man took a hammer to the statue, damaging the left foot and breaking off some toes. That was also repaired.
4. David’s Weak Ankles
Despite being moved inside, David is still not safe. In fact, the most pressing issue for the sculpture is that it’s weak in the ankles. In 2014, diagnostics were run and researchers made a dire discovery.
There were tiny stress fractures in David’s ankles moving up the legs. The right weight bearing leg was worse than the left leg.
They concluded that, if the 5 ton David was tilted even 15 degrees, the ankles would break and David would pitch forward and explode.
This state of affairs is due to partly to a defect caused by the lightening strike. The center of gravity of the sculpture doesn’t align perfectly with the center of gravity of its base.
The sculpture was also leaning during its 360 year stint in the Piazza della Signoria. This problem was caused by the ground shifting over time.
Unfortunately, the fissures can’t be fixed. But the gallery intends, at some point, to lift the statue and reinstall it on an anti-seismic base.
That would protect David during earthquakes or natural events. But the Italian government has nothing done yet.
Analysis of David: Why You Need To See Michelangelo’s David
When you walk in the Accademia, you’re first confronted with the Hall of the Colossus. Turn left and head into the gallery proper. You’ll see David down a long barrel vaulted nave under a glass dome.
The presentation of David is a stunning one. Your reaction may be to gasp. The statue will likely exceed your expectations, in contrast for example the disappointment of seeing the Mona Lisa in the Louvre.
The statue is just over 17 feet. It weights 5 tons. The architectural setting makes it appear even larger.
Traditionally, David is portrayed after his victory, often holding Goliath’s severed head. The sculptors Verrocchio, Ghiberti, and Donatello all used this depiction. (You can see their Davids in the Bargello Museum.)
In contrast, Michelangelo’s David is shown in the moment before battle. David is in a classical contrapposto stance — a twisting position where the weight is shifted mostly to one leg. He’s relaxed.
But David looks pensive, as if he’s just spotted the enemy. There’s an intense expression in his eyes. He’s self assured, as if he’s thinking “I can take him.”
You can barely see the slingshot over David’s shoulder. This detail suggests that the battle was won with cleverness, not brute force. David appears like a “thinking man,” a symbol of Renaissance idealism.
The statue shows Michelangelo’s remarkable knowledge of the human body. His experiments in dissecting cadavers helped him sculpt realistically. You can see David’s bulging veins, taut muscles, and rib cage.
David’s head and his right hand are oversized. That’s most likely due to the fact that the sculpture was intended for a high perch in the Duomo.
But it may also be Michelangelo’s way to underscore David’s concentration, with the hand as a symbol of the action to come or perhaps as a symbol of God.
The statue is 3x the size of a normal human being. By making him so large, Michelangelo became the first sculpture to replicate what Greco-Roman sculptors had done centuries ago.
After David, he was commissioned to paint the frescos on the Sistine Chapel ceiling in the Vatican Museums.
360 Virtual Tour of David
You can also visit the David online from the comfort of your home. Here’s a 360 video of David.
If you can’t secure a ticket to the Accademia, there are exact copies of David in the Piazza della Signoria (its original location) and the Piazzale Michelangelo.
Other Things To See at the Accademia Besides David
Aside from seeing Michelangelo’s David, you can also see Michelangelo’s unfinished Slaves in the Hall of the Prisoners. The slaves have been named The Awakening Slave, The Young Slave, The Bearded Slave, and The Atlas.
They were likely intended for the Tomb of Pope Julius II, a project that underwent continual revision. The Accademia also houses Michelangelo’s sculpture of St. Matthew.
In the Hall of Colossus, there are paintings by Sandro Botticelli, Paulo Uccello, and Domenico Ghirlandaio, Michelangelo’s teacher for one year.
In the center is a plaster model of Giambologna’s Rape of the Sabine.The original is still in the Loggia dei Lanza in the Piazza della Signoria.
In the Hall of Models, you’ll find a selection of 19th century plaster casts by Lorenzo Bartolini. He was one of the great sculptors and brilliant professors of the Academy.
You can witness first hand the evolution of Florentine sculpture from Neoclassicism to Romanticism.
How To Get Tickets and Reservations To See David at the Accademia
Seeing Michelangelo’s David is one of the best things to do in Florence. Hence, there are often long lines to get into the Accademia, even though it’s a small museum. Everyone in Florence wants to see this one perfect sculpture.
Be organized. Don’t arrive without a ticket or you’ll waste boatloads of time. But, have no fear, I’ll tell you everything you need to know for an efficient visit to the Accademia.
The cheapest tickets are sold at the Accademia ticket office. But there are long queues for that as well. It’s best to buy skip the line tickets online. Click here for the museum’s official b-ticket website.
When buying your ticket, you can also make a timed entry reservation for € 4. This is advisable during high season from April through October and the only way to skip the line. You’ll want to skip the line.
The Florence Card guarantees you a time slot within its 72 hour window. But, you have to make an online reservation yourself.
If you didn’t make a time slot reservation, it’s best to try visiting in the later afternoon before the museum closes.
The tickets on the official website can be booked up to a month in advance. If they’re sold out, your best bet is to buy a ticket from a reseller like Tiqet or book a tour. If you buy from Tiqet, you can get your ticket by email or text message.
Once you’ve bought a ticket online, there’s another step. You must still exchange the voucher for an actual paper ticket.
You do this at a dedicated ticket desk set up in the Accademia shop across the road from the museum. Then, finally, you need to go through security.
Here is other practical information and tips for Seeing Michelangelo’s David.
Practical Information For Visiting the Galleria dell’Accademia
Address: Via Riscasoli 58, near Piazza San Marco
Tuesday to Friday 8:15 am to 6:50 pm, entry every 15 minutes. Closed Mondays. The ticket office closes at 6:20 pm. Children under 18 are free. But you still have to purchase a timed entry “free” ticket for then to enter.
The first Sunday of the month there’s free entry. On that day, you can’t book a ticket online. Everyone has an equal chance to see the museum for free. So prepare for unavoidable queues on that day.
Ticket prices: Full ticket: € 12 Reservation fee: € 4
Audio Guide: Available in Italian, English, French, Spanish, German, and Japanese Cost: € 6 for one-person device, € 10 for a two person device
Pro tip: You can only take photos without a flash.
I hope you’ve enjoyed my guide to seeing Michelangdlo’s David in Florence. If you’re interested in seeing more beautiful Renaissance art in Florence, here are some of my other Florence guides and resources:
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