Was Michaelangelo's David THE David, from the bible?

I ask because I’ve recently become aware of a minor accusation from some folks of Jewish extraction that Michaelangelo may have been betraying signs of antisemitism by not portraying his David as circumcised.

I say “minor accusation” because I don’t think they are too bothered about the whole issue and they recognise Michaelangelo as a great artist in any event.

However I am unsure about this whole thing because:

  1. I’m not at all sure that Michaelangelo’s David is meant to be THE David.

  2. Even if it is meant to be THE David, Michaelangelo was a catholic and it’s possible he just forgot/overlooked this detail since cathollics don’t circumcise as a rule.

  3. The model he used would probably have been uncircumcised so he just carved as he saw.

But then casual antisemitism may have been common in 15th Century Italy and Michaelangelo was just a creature of his time, so possibly he did deliberately leave this detail out as some kind of snub to Jewish people.

This scenario seems unlikely to me though because an artist isn’t in the business of snubbing people - they just depict what they see. And he didn’t know at the time how famous David was going to become.

Anyone know the truth?

Is this even a GQ?

Yeah, he’s THE David.
Yeah, Mike might have just not thought it was that important. It might not have been a point that he was very clear on. It might have been considered too. . . odd for a public sculpture-- something indecorous about an unusual penis in public?
Yeah, casual anti-semitism was pretty standard at the time.
Any number of possibilities here.

He is carrying his weapon of choice, a slingshot, so that’s some evidence. I guess it could be some other slingshot-toting non-Jewish David though.

It was definitely THE David. It was definitely an antisemetic time. I don’t know the situation in Italy, but the Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492. I also don’t know whether the average Catholic of the time would have known about circumcision as a Jewish covenant. I say this because :

  1. The Jews in Spain were given the choice of leaving or converting.

  2. Years later, Church officials became concerned about backsliding among the converted and made lists of signs of Jewish affiliation, including dietary and social conventions, which were posted with the idea that people would check out their neighbors for signs.

  3. These lists became a source of information for decendents of the converted who had no other way to learn their forebear’s culture.

I can’t guess the motivation for de-circumcising David, but I’m fairly sure that Michaelangelo had a good idea of his own importance and the improtance of his work.

Several art historians have suggested that Michelangelo’s (note the spelling btw) David cannot be the David from the Bible because he isn’t circumcised. It seems more likely that the figure was carved that way, not to insult Jewish people, but to emphasise other qualities of the figure’s character. The slingshot confirms that the subject was King David, slayer of Goliath.

There are several interpretations of what this sculpture represents. It may symbolise the replacement of the dictatorship of the Medicis with a Florentine republic; military triumph over neighbouring Pisa; or even a reaffirmation of masculine political presence after a certain faux pas by the recently-elected governor of Florence (he allowed his wife to move into the city hall, which hadn’t happened previously). None of those require the depiction of a conspicuously Jewish David.

Whether the model had been circumcised is not an issue. It’s not a portrait sculpture, and the foreskin could have been carved any way he wanted. The sculpture of Moses in the Church of S. Pietro in Vincoli, Rome, has horns growing out of his head (possibly due to a translation error in the Vulgate) and it is unlikely that his model had those!

It is also unlikely that Michelangelo forgot that the real David would have been circumcised - he was a careful student of the Bible as well as the Classical literature.

In fact, stylistically the David is in the tradition of the Classical masterpieces, and neither the Greeks nor Romans were circumcised. Some have even suggested that the statue is accidentally accurate anyhow, because in biblical times circumcision removed less skin than nowadays (you’ll have to ask your Jewish friends for a ruling on that one).

In any case historical accuracy in depicting the David as recognisably Jewish was evidently not a high priority, but that’s no reason to deduce anti-Semitism. The Jewish audience in C16[sup]th[/sup] Florence was very small and nobody else would have been looking for such evidence.

      • Oh, but he did: M’s David is the largest-scale, most-open marble statue produced at the time, the best example of such a work of anything in marble that has survived, or that we, or he, had any record of. If it would have stood for a year and then crumbled, it would probably still have become famous.
  • Marble isn’t really that strong of a material, so marble statues tend to be naturally compact–this is why you never see marble horses supported only by their legs, because the body of the horse ends up way too heavy to be supported by only the thin marble legs. M’s David is extremely “top-heavy” with relatively very little support (the legs) to hold it up- it’s difficult to find any other marble statues near the scale and composition as it. Two reasons it’s amazing are that M ever tried it in the first place, and that it has survived through time without crumbling itself (it does have a few cracks but some were present when it was made and the rest we don’t know when they occurred).

In fairness to Jojo, it’s stretching it a bit to expect Michelangelo to have had any concept of our perception of his work five centuries after the event. What do you think will people be talking about in 2502?

      • If this comment was directed at me, my response is “It’s true that M couldn’t have known the furure of his accomplishments, but I’m not talking about five centuries after the fact. M’s David was an enormous technical achievement in its own day.”

        As for what will be talked about in 50 years, probably much of the same things we view as classical examples today. If you visited the Giza pyramids today, you might say that they were “an enormous architechtural feat by an ancient lost civilization”. Visitors from ancient Greece and Rome could have said exactly the same thing roughly 2000 or so years ago.

Could it not simply be the case that the statue represents the Biblical David, but the style is of the classical romano-greek tradition.

I have always wondered why David has such strange proportions: large hands and a smally willy.

Wasn’t this the statue where the figure was composed somewhat awkwardly to in order fit the block of marble available?

I know that the block of marble is amazing in itself because it was so narrow, and it took the genius of someone like Mike to make a figure work at all.

As far as the proportions are concerned, I was under the impression that the statues was designed to have been placed high on the wall of the Palazzo Vecchio, so the sculptor (notice how I’m trying to avoid spelling Michelangelo, damn, had to look it up) crafted it to give the proportions he wanted from the ground. Having said that, I’ve always thought that a figure with small hands in relation to the rest of its body will look proportionally the same from below, just smaller.

BTW, anyone who hasn’t been to Florence should go. It’s an amazing city.

PS. That’s my hundredth post!

Yes. Generally, Michelangelo spent a lot of time carefully choosing his own stones, but on this occasion he inherited a block from the sculptor Agostino di Duccio, who had originally been given the commission but had given it up. The block was too narrow for the work and had a serious flaw in it. Part of M’s genius is that he was able to find a pose that pushed the hips to one side, avoiding the flaw.

The large head can be attributed partly to the fact that the statue was originally intended to be viewed from below, and partly to emphasise the subject’s capacity for thought. The large hands show him to be a man of action. The small genitals are part of the Classical tradition - small genitals denoted that the subject was an ideal, intellectual human; large genitals would have suggested something earthly and animalistic. All M’s work had this characteristic.

I think we should all be grateful that nobody so far has suggested Angelo was his surname. That’s always been an error that grates on my nerves, like “wherefore art thou Romeo” meaning “where are you Romeo”. M’s surname was Buonarroti btw.

I think that the statue wasn’t headed for the Palazzo Vecchio but the Duomo. . . unless I’m wrong-- In any case it was intended to be seen from far below and this accounts for the scale as well. (From what I recall it was clear that it was an oustanding piece so the city decided to put it in a more prominent spot, MAYBE as a political symbol (as Everton noted).
I don’t know. . . he was apparently a bit of a megalomaniac and part of the Renaissance Florentine rhetoric/ drive was “Fame” (if you look at the opening plate in Vasari, for example (the more-or-less first real systematic “art historian/critic” who published in 1550, if you’re not familiar-- an interesting read), he explains his want to memorialize the artists for ALL time with an inscription and allegorical figure of Fama)-- this was when they were becoming interested again in the old Roman sites and figures, which were 1,000 and more years old at the time, so I think they did have an idea that they COULD be remembered that long. They knew the names of the greatest Greek painters, for example, and based their own tropes on ones taken over form the Greeks-- Vasari’s account of Giotto is practically plagarized (yes, anachronistic term) from the story of Apelles or Zeuxis (or one of those guys-- can’t remember exactly). Vasari pitches Mike in his historical narrative as THE pinnacle of art history with the rest of the work acting as a sort of build up to the big climax of Michelangelo’s holy incarnation which saved art from the damnation of the dark ages-- the second coming of antiquity (with Giotto as prophet)-- they knew what they were doing. V started a historical process/ discourse which was apparently surprisingly successful, as we all “know” Mike was the best artist EVER but think that WE decided the fact. The canon was set so very early on by a very invested party (Vasari as a near-contemporary Michelangelo-worshipping toady). Not that Mike isn’t great, but there’s a long reception tradition here.
This isn’t SUPPOSED to sound rant-y. . .