"No other artwork is equal to David in any respect." -- Giorgio Vasari
Michelangelo's David in the rotunda of the Galleria dell' Accademia in Florence
Michelangelo's David is perhaps the world's most famous sculpture. The 17 foot Renaissance statue is considered the embodiment of male beauty, a Calvin Klein-like model of physical perfection.
People flock to Florence's Galleria dell'Accademia in droves to see David. After the Uffizi Gallery, the Accademia is Florence's most visited museum. In this guide, I tell you all about the marvel of David and, perhaps more importantly, how to skip the line at the Accademia to see the famed statue in person.
History and Facts About Michelangelo's David
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.
The 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.
Jacopino del Conte, Portrait of Michelangelo, 1535
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. He'd only completed one major sculpture, the tragically beautiful Pieta, which is in St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. But he was already well known.
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.
Instead, David was placed outside the entrance of the Palazzo Vecchio in the Piazza della Signoria, Florence's seat of government. David was moved by 40 men over four days. The city fell in love with the sculpture. The citizens deemed it a powerful symbol of the renewed Florentine republic, ready to defend itself.
Originally, parts of David were gilded. But the gilded surfaces were lost during the statue's exposure to the elements. In 1873, after over 360 years, David was moved inside to the Accademia.
The Wounds of David
David hasn't lead the easiest life. 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.
The pieces were recovered by a young Giorgio Vasari, who would go on to paint frescos inside the Palazzo Vecchio. David was repaired. But then in 1991, a deranged man took a hammer to the statue, damaging the left foot. That was also repaired.
David's Weak Ankles
Despite being moved inside, David is still not safe. In fact, the sculpture is weak in the ankles. In 2014, researchers made a dire discovery.
Hall of the Prisoners with Michelangelo's Slaves and his David in the rotunda
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 6 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 in the design. 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, a situation caused by the ground shifting over time.
Unfortunately, the fissures can't be fixed. But the gallery intends, at some point, to install an anti-seismic base to protect it during earthquakes or natural events.
David looks intently at his adversary
Analysis of David: Why Visit Michelangelo's David
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.
the intense expression in David's eyes
360 Virtual Tour of David
You can 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 copies of David in the Piazza della Signoria and the Piazzale Michelangelo.
Other Things To See at the Accademia Besides David
Aside from David, you can 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 PopeJulius II, a project that underwent continual revision.
The Accademia also houses Michelangelo's sculpture of St. Matthew. And there are paintings by Sandro Botticelli, Paulo Uccello, and Domenico Ghirlandaio, Michelangelo's teacher for one year.
the Hall of Models by Bartolini
How To Get Tickets and Reservations To See David at the Accademia
Michelangelo's David is one of Florence's star attractions and must see sites. 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. The Florence Card guarantees you a time slot within its 72 hour window. But, you have to make an online reservation yourself.
Michelangelo, Awakening Slave, 1520-23
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.
Lorenzo Monaco, detail Monte Oliveto Altarpiece, 1410
Other Practical Information & Tips for Visiting the Galleria dell'Accademia
Address: Via Riscasoli 58, near Piazza San Marco
Tuesday to Friday 8:15 am to 6:50 pm, 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.
Full ticket: € 12
Reservation fee: € 4
Available in Italian, English, French, Spanish, German, and Japanese
Cost: € 6 for one-person device, € 10 for a two person device
If you're interested in seeing more beautiful Renaissance art in Florence, here are my other guides: