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David: Before Or After?

Art historians ask of Michelangelo’s David, “Is David sizing up Goliath, or looking in satisfaction at the defeated giant?”

There are political and cultural ramifications to David. He was sculpted during a time of lingering political unrest in the city of Florence, this mostly due to the mess left by the ordeal of Savonarola (powerful and unprincipled Barons stepped in to rule Florence). Michelangelo chose to represent David as an athlete, very concentrated, holding a stone in his right hand, and ready to fight. Michelangelo was devoted to the ideals of the Republic and wanted each citizen to rightfully discharge his or her responsibilities by being committed to returning the city to its former freedom and political greatness. Michelangelo would write in his diary of the commission,

“I found myself famous. The City Council asked me to carve a colossal David from a nineteen-foot block of marble -- and damaged to boot! I locked myself away in a workshop behind the cathedral, hammered and chiseled at the towering block for three long years. In spite of the opposition of a committee of fellow artists, I insisted that the figure should stand before the Palazzo Vecchio, as a symbol of our Republic. I had my way. Archways were torn down, narrow streets widened...it took forty men five days to move it. Once in place, all Florence was astounded. A civic hero, he was a warning...whoever governed Florence should govern justly and defend it bravely. Eyes watchful...the neck of a bull...hands of a killer...the body, a reservoir of energy. He stands poised to strike.”

That David stands “poised to strike” reveals that the image represents David just before he attacks Goliath.

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