everyone’s seen the David. it graces the covers of books, postcards, and aprons. it’s been copied at varying sizes since it was first sculpted. it’s a seminal piece of art history, and it currently stands in the center of the Accademia Galleria in Florence, Italy, preserved for every tourist to come and surreptitiously snap pictures with their cellphones while loud, angry Italian museum guards yell unintelligible curses at our smiling, faux-naïve faces.
to see it in person is really something else.
i was in Europe in the summer of 2008. in Italy, i was completely by myself in Florence for about 8 days, doing research for a screenplay i was working on at the time. i did very few touristy things, but seeing the David before i left was a must.
i woke up early that morning. the nuns in the monestary where i stayed had barely roused. the night before they gave me some provisions for breakfast. they wanted to make sure — even though i was leaving early — that i was fed (since i was paying for it anyway as part of my rent).
so i ventured out onto the Viale Michelangiolo with backpack and breakfast and headed for the Accademia Gallery. i arrived at what appeared to be the backside of a warehouse, but no, it was the right place. surprisingly, there was no line, and a sign indicated the doors would open at 8:30. seeing as how it was about 6:30, i wandered back into town to get some coffee.
after my brief cup of espresso, i wandered back out and found a place on the street to pop a squat and people watch. the city was relatively quiet, though the noise had already begun, a few of the small industrial trucks barrelling their way down the tiny, cobbled alleys.
a few beggars clattered about, practicing their pleas on passersby. a few young stockboys, browned by the Italian summer sun hustled boxes into the square where the small kiosks were just stretching and yawning to life with the rest of the town. Florence is a major Italian city, but this morning I could see it was just another town like any other, a place these people called home.
after snapping a few pictures, i went about 8:15 or so to get in line. there were maybe 12 people in line. the guy in front of me spoke English. the doors opened, and we all waddled in, handing our 10 euro to some disenchanted museum employee locked away behind a ticketbooth window and an embroidered polo.
i moseyed about the first gallery, taking in the huge oil canvases from centuries ago. in the middle of the room was a towering sculpture. i took out my camera, and immediately became aware of the guards and the signs — “NO PHOTO!” both exclaimed.
rounding the corner into the main hall, i was really enthralled by the unfinished sculptures lining the walkway leading up to the David. (yes, the David was there, in my perifery. but i refused to look at it until i stood before it and could really take it all in.) these half-sculptures were amazing. their style was so different from the rest of Michelangelo’s work that i’d seen in books. they seemed so evolved artistically, almost like the art deco reliefs of the American 20s, or maybe i just remember them that way, these frozen men struggling to escape the stones which still encapsulated them.
unfinished, they were rough hewn. like seeing the contrapasto of a Van Gogh up close (which I got to do later in Rome at the Vatican), you could see the artist’s handiwork, frozen for posterity, unmistakable fingerprints of the one who cared enough to chip away at the unknown and present this gift to the world.
after a deep breath, i turned to see the David, towering over tourists under the Gallery’s small rotunda. he stood tall, relaxed on his hind leg, staring off at an opposing giant, unseen, to the south. he had already selected his stones, and stood sizing up his opponent, his massive hands clutching the sling draped over his sculpted shoulder.
as you approach, it is only natural to look to his face. despite being stone, it is soft, the brow ever-so-slightly furrowed. the danger of the giant is palpably tacit.
the natural draw is to walk around him to the right, counter-clockwise. my eyes glued to that unsure countenance, a magnificent thing happened as i paced about the marble marvel. the right side of David’s face is different than the left. it’s harder, the eye more narrow. as you walk around the statue, it comes to life. it’s eerily alive. you can almost see him breathe, it feels so real.
the face changes. as you cross David’s eyeline, his gaze resolves. the broad faith that selects five stones from a hidden brook settles into that certainty that fires one carefully selected projectie as David and Goliath race toward one of their deaths. in those carved eyes, you can see “who is this Philistine?” become “that all the earth may know there IS a God in Israel!”
unlike the prisoners of stone in the hallway before, David is free. his massive head and massive hands emphasize the intellect and the actions of a man of thought. a man with a deep connection to an important history. a man with determination. a man who will not stand idly by as his people are oppressed and persecuted. a man who slays giants.
this stone depiction of the 1 Samuel 17 hero is nearly as powerful as the small, smooth creekstone that cracked Goliath’s forehead millennia ago. frozen in the David’s fierce gaze is the fiery smolder that can only reside in a man after God’s own heart. the poet. the shepherd. the king. the warrior.
the path around the statue is short, but the journey spans all of human history. bit by bit, step by step, faith evolves into action, and by those deeds, the world will know that there IS a God among His people.
“But Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, if these become silent, the stones will cry out!’ ”
- Luke 19:40
images not my own are pulled from the Wikimedia Commons, and to my knowledge they are used according to guidelines.