I once stood here tall and proud. Supplicants from the world over came here to do me homage. But, the world has changed.
My name is David and this is my story.
I was conceived on a commission by Agostino di Duccio in 1465 in the quarries of Fantiscritti. Master Agostino had taken over a commission from Donato di Niccolò di Betto Bardi (Donatello) to carve a statue of for the roof line of the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore (Duomo). I was to be one of twelve statues of biblical heroes commissioned to adorn the cathedral.
Scarpellini (quarry cutters) drove iron chisels around my mighty girth, taking many months to free me from the mountain. At over five metres tall I was, by far, the largest piece of marble they had cut from the mountain.
My size would be a blessing and a curse.
I was too heavy for the lizzatura (sled) . Under the watchful eye of Master Agostino, I was roughly shaped, to reduce my weight, until I looked more like a coffin than a block of marble. Finally, I was placed on the lizzatura and slowly lowered down from the mountain.
The trip to Marina Di Carra was slow and tortuous. Many days we only advanced a few metres, some days we didn’t move at all. At the marina I was loaded on a barge. The sea voyage was equally as perilous, winter storms threatened to swamp the barge. Finally, we were on the Arno. Horses pulled me up the Arno, some days making as much as three kilometres. It had taken almost a year but by the end of November 1466 I was safely in the Master Agostino workshop.
Master Agostino started releasing me from my coffin.
Disaster. In December 1466, for no reason, the commission was abandoned. For ten years I lay in the Duomo yard before another would take up the commission to finally release me from the stone.
In 1476 Antonio Rossellino, who had studied under Donatello, was commissioned to complete my release. Master Antonio worked feverishly shaping my final form. Alas, it was not to be. In 1479 Master Antonio was taken by the Black Death.
Once more I was relegated to the Duomo yard. For twenty one years I languished there. The sun and the rain beating down on my supine form, dulling my finish. Rats made their homes in the spaces beneath my legs. Workmen used the uncarved sections as a table. Dust and grime covered every surface.
Finally, in 1500, the Opera del Duomo decided to try once more to find a sculptor willing to take up the commission. I was raised to show my full height, yet no one would take up the challenge. They all said Master Antonio had ruined the stone. Which was indeed true.
After a year of waiting, a young man came to visit me. At twenty six he was the youngest person to consider the commission. I trembled as this young genius ran his hand over my still rough form. In 1501 Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni, was given the commission.
Using large chisels at first, then ever smaller ones that the Master had designed specifically for me. He worked around the mistakes of Master Antonio, imposing his own vision on the stone.
My stance is that of a right handed person, my right shoulder and my gaze turned towards my enemy. My sling should be in my right hand. However, Master Antonio made the arms so that the sling must be in my left hand. An amateur's mistake!
Finally, my final shape emerged from the stone. Roughly at first, then with a lover’s gentle caress, the Master began to polish the marble. Day after day for almost two years the master polished me. Then, in January 1504, I was to be hoisted to the top of the Duomo to join Donatello’s other biblical figures.
Once again, my size was a problem. I was too heavy to be lifted to the top of the Duomo.
This was a disaster. The Master had designed me to be viewed from below. Using ‘foreshortening’ on my hands, thighs and facial features so they would seem in the right proportion when viewed from below. I was not designed to be viewed from ground level.
An argument ensued as to where I was to stand. Some wanted a more sheltered location in a portico near Loggia dei Lanzi. Others wanted a more open and symbolic location at the entrance to the town hall in the Palazzo della Signoria. [now Palazzo Vecchio]
With my stern gaze fixed firmly south to Rome and the exiled Medici, I was mounted in the Palazzo della Signoria. In the space of a few days I had gone from a religious symbol to a political symbol. My determined stare was no longer that of a shepherd boy ready to do battle with a giant, but that of a city, surrounded by enemies, determined to fashion its own path.
After only a few months in my new location I was subject to the first of three humiliations. At the Pope’s decree a girdle of bronze fig leaves was fashioned to cover my manhood. This was later changed to a single detachable leaf.
Not all Philistines were defeated at Elah.
For 370 years I watched over my city. Princes, Popes and poets came to see me, lavishing their phrases on me and the Master. But, it was always the people of Florence that most pleased me. I saw young men grow old and old men bring their grandchildren to marvel at my countenance. Lovers and thieves, politicians and priests, the people of Florence passed before me giving me great joy.
In 1873, my size became a problem - again.
The ground beneath my stand was sinking under my weight. Cracks were forming on my legs. I had to be moved.
A spot was found in the Galleria dell'Accademia di Firenze. I would be transformed once more, from a symbol of Florence’s power to a work of art.
I no longer look out at the people I love. I am in a corner facing a wall.
Am I a child to be told to stand in the corner and face the wall?
Yet, people still came to see me and honour the Master. Other examples of the Master’s works were placed in the gallery. But, it was I that garnered the most attention. For 135 years I stood there, content that my Master’s work was being appreciated by so loving an audience.
Then - the world changed. I would be transformed yet again and suffered my worst humiliation. I went from being a work of art to a tourist attraction, Florence’s equivalent of Mickey Mouse.
A pompous majordomo holds a stick, topped with a strip of coloured cloth, in the air. He marches a flock of sheep in front of me, then starts his spiel:
“This is Michelangelo’s David. Erected in 1504, it is 17 feet height and represents David before he slays Goliath''
One by one the sheep hand him their camera phones. He takes their picture and hands the phone back. The sheep check off one more item on their list of ‘Things To See in Florence’.
“Next stop, the Uffizi Gallery.”
Day after day, one group replacing the previous until they merge into a mind numbing blur.
My heart bleeds.