15 Things You Might Not Know About Michelangelo’s David

Franco Origlia/Getty Images
Franco Origlia/Getty Images

Few statues are as enduring and iconic as Michelangelo's David. But while much of the world could sketch this majestic masterpiece from memory, few know the quirks and curiosities that went into its creation.

1. IT’S A RELIGIOUS STATUE. 

At first glance, Michelangelo’s famed naked man may not scream “biblical hero.” But if you look closely, David cradles a sling over his left shoulder and clutches a rock in his right hand. These items and the statue’s name identify the subject as the David who faced down the vicious giant Goliath. Michelangelo broke from convention by not including the future king’s fearsome foe in his sculpture. In a further departure from tradition, art historians believe David depicts the legendary underdog before the great battle, in part because of the anxiety that’s clearly etched on his face. 

2. IT'S LARGER THAN LIFE. 

David

stands 17 feet tall, nearly three times the size of the average man. 

3. HIS RIGHT HAND IS OUT OF PROPORTION.

Getty Images

It's too big to fit perfectly with the rest of his body. This asymmetry is believed to be Michelangelo's clever nod to David's nickname, manu fortis—strong of hand. 

4. DAVID IS LEFT-HANDED.

You can tell he’s a southpaw from where the slingshot lies—but strangely, his body position is more suggestive of a righty.

5. THE STATUE IS CARVED FROM A SINGLE BLOCK OF UNWANTED MARBLE.

The block of marble that became one of history’s most famous masterpieces proves the old cliché about one man’s trash being another’s treasure. Michelangelo created David from a piece of marble that had been twice discarded by other sculptors. Agostino di Duccio gave up on a project using the block, after which it sat untouched for 10 years. At that point, Antonio Rossellino took a crack at the block but decided it was too much of a pain to work with. When Michelangelo finally got his hands on it, the marble had been waiting for 40 years for someone who was up to its challenge. 

6. DAVID WAS INTENDED FOR GREAT HEIGHTS. 

In 1501, the city government of Florence commissioned Michelangelo to create the piece as part of a series of statues meant to adorn the roofline of Florence's cathedral dome. But upon its completion, Michelangelo's patrons were so overwhelmed by David's beauty that they decided to scrap that plan and place it where it could be appreciated up close. In 2010, a Florence art project showed David as it was intended, perching a replica high on the Cathedral's exterior, as well as in every other spot that had been suggested upon its completion in 1504. 

7. IT EARNED RAVE REVIEWS FROM THE START. 

Sixteenth century Italian painter and architect Giorgio Vasari wrote of David, "Whoever has seen this work need not trouble to see any other work executed in sculpture, either in our own or in other times." With praise like that, how could the people of Florence tuck the statue up high on a rooftop? 

8. IT CEMENTED MICHELANGELO’S REPUTATION. 

Five years before David's debut, Michelangelo's Pieta made him famous. But it was his David that defined the 29-year-old High Renaissance artist as a master sculptor. Four years later, in 1508, he would begin work on his greatest painting achievement in the Sistine Chapel

9. DAVID PULLED INSPIRATION FROM ANCIENT ROMAN ART. 

Specifically, it's believed that Michelangelo based David's pose on depictions of Hercules, a hero with deep ties to the city of Florence who had even appeared on the Florentine seal for centuries. By creating such a glorious statue in the Roman tradition, Michelangelo helped ensure the work was instantly embraced by the people of Florence. 

10. FOR DECADES, DAVID WAS A POLITICAL SYMBOL. 

After much debate, David was placed outside Florence's government offices in the Palazzo Della Signoria, creating a strong connection in the public's mind. In 1494, the powerful Medici family was exiled from Florence, and as such this new republic was under constant threat from both the returning Medicis (who regained power in 1512) and the surrounding states, making Florence feel like the biblical David. It's said the statue's wary gaze was knowingly pointed toward Rome. 

These political overtones led to the statue being attacked twice in its early days. Protesters pelted it with stones the year it debuted, and, in 1527, an anti-Medici riot resulted in its left arm being broken into three pieces.  

11. IT HAS WEATHERED MODERN ATTACKS, TOO. 

On September 14, 1991, Italian artist Piero Cannata snuck a small hammer into the statue's home at the Galleria dell'Accademia in Florence. He approached the towering statue and promptly smashed off the second toe on his left foot. The museum's visitors leapt into action, converging on David's attacker, preventing him from doing any further damage and subduing him until the police arrived. When asked why he'd do such a thing, Cannata claimed that a model for the Renaissance artist Paolo Veronese, who was a rough contemporary of Michelangelo, had asked him to do it. 

12. THERE’S MORE THAN ONE DAVID. 

Since David is one of the world's most popular pieces of art, there are reproductions of it on t-shirts, mouse pads, and just about any medium you can imagine. But even full-fledged replicas exist—and Florence has two of them: While the real David sits in a museum, a full-sized copy stands in its original place in front of the Palazzo Vecchio, and a bronzed replica towers over the city from its perch on Piazzale Michelangelo. 

13. DAVID IS OCCASIONALLY CENSORED. 

Fans of The Simpsons will recall a plot where the locals of Springfield demand that David put on some pants. While this request was used as a comical extreme of censorship, it mirrored actual events in the nude statue's past. 

In 1857, the Grand Duke of Tuscany surprised England's Queen Victoria with a replica of Michelangelo's David. It's said the prim royal was so scandalized by the piece's nudity that a detachable plaster cast fig leaf was created to preserve the modesty of this marble man and protect the gentlewomen who might visit him at the modern day Victoria and Albert Museum in London. 

14. TOURISTS ARE HARD ON DAVID. 

Over 8 million visitors a year tromp through the Galleria dell'Accademia to take in the sight of David. Unfortunately, studies show that all this foot traffic creates vibrations that amount to little, near-constant earthquakes that are tearing at the marble and through recent restoration work of the centuries-old piece. 

15. DAVID’S OWNERSHIP IS A TRICKY QUESTION. 

David

has stood on display at Florence's Galleria dell'Accademia since 1873. But as more and more tourists were drawn to take in the wonder of David, the Italian government began to itch to define the national treasure's ownership. In 2010, the Italian government began a campaign to solidify its claim to the iconic marble statue. 

Does the statue belong to the city of Florence or the nation of Italy? An ongoing court case is burrowing through the history of both to decide. Florence mayor Matteo Renzi declared, "This is a new instance of David versus Goliath. Our battle is for a different way of managing the cultural patrimony of a city that lives off culture." Perhaps it's time to point David's eyes to Rome once more.

All images courtesy of Getty Images.

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The Hidden Meanings Behind 11 Common Tombstone Symbols

Tombstone symbols can sometimes be hard to interpret.
Tombstone symbols can sometimes be hard to interpret.
Photo by Brett Sayles from Pexels

Walk through any cemetery in the world and you’ll find a solemn landscape that honors loved ones that have passed on. Accompanying the inscriptions of names, dates, and family crests are some common symbols that crop up repeatedly on tombstones. If you’ve ever wondered what they could mean, take a look at some of the explanations behind the graveyard graphics.

1. Eye

The eyes have it.Valerie Everett, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

If you feel someone may be looking at you in the cemetery, you might be near a tombstone engraved with an eye. Often surrounded in a burst of sunlight or a triangle, an eye typically represents the all-seeing eye of God and could denote that the decedent was a Freemason.

2. Clasped Hands

Hands on a tombstone can mean several things.Christina Ramey, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

Seeing two hands clasped together can illustrate shaking hands or holding hands, depending on the position of the thumbs. A handshake can mean a greeting to eternal life. If clasped hands have different cuffs, it could indicate a bond between the deceased and a spouse or relative. If one hand is higher than the other, it could also mean that a person is being welcomed by a loved one or a higher power. The hand engraving grew into wide use during the Victorian era.

3. Dove

Doves appear in a variety of poses on tombstones.Tim Green, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

A dove usually symbolizes peace and the Holy Spirit, but its specific meaning depends on how the bird is posed. If it’s flying upward, the soul is ascending to heaven. If it’s flying down, it represents the Holy Spirit arriving at the baptism of Jesus Christ. If it’s holding an olive branch in its mouth, it refers to an ancient Greek belief that olive branches could ward off evil spirits.

4. Broken Chain

Chains on tombstones can be linked or broken.Carl Wycoff, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Medieval wisdom once held that a golden chain kept the soul in the body. In death, the chain is broken and the soul is freed. If the chain is unbroken and if it features the letters FLT (for Friendship, Love, and Truth), it probably means the deceased belonged to the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, a fraternal organization that seeks to promote charitable causes and offer aid.

5. Book

The meaning of a book on a tombstone isn't always easy to read.Carl Wycoff, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Was the deceased an avid reader? Maybe, but not necessarily. An open book on a tombstone might refer to a sacred text like the Bible, the “book of life,” or the person’s willingness to learn. If you see a dog-earned corner on the right side, it could indicate the person’s life ended prematurely and before their “book” was finished.

6. Finger Pointing Up

An index finger pointing up can direct visitors to look up.Christina Ramey, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

A hand with the index finger raised skyward is one of the more ambiguous symbols found in graveyards. It might be pointing to heaven, or indicate the fact that the decedent has risen from the land of the living.

7. Corn

Ears of corn could mean the deceased was a farmer.mike krzeszak, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

A corn stalk on a tombstone means the deceased could have been a farmer; it used to be a custom to send corn instead of floral arrangements to a farmer’s family. It might represent other kinds of grain. Alternately, corn seeds can symbolize rebirth.

8. Scroll

Scrolls on a tombstone can refer to an unknown future.Kelly Teague, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

A scroll engraved on a tombstone with both ends rolled up can indicate that part of life has already unfolded while the future is hidden.

9. Lamp

Lamps can mean a love of knowledge.Sean, Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

A lamp on a tombstone could speak to a love of learning or knowledge, or it might refer to how the spirit is immortal.

10. Camel

Camels aren't something you'd expect to see on a tombstone.Glen, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

While this particular camel signifies the Imperial Camel Corps that occupied desert regions during World War I, a camel can also represent a long journey or a skilled guide—in this case, for the afterlife.

11. Hourglass

An hourglass can be a message to the living.justiny8s, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

As you may have guessed, the hourglass symbolizes the march of time. An hourglass on its end may mean the deceased died suddenly, while a winged hourglass communicates how quickly time flies. It may also be construed as a message to the living—time is short, so don’t waste it.