The Year of Italian Culture--Michelangelo's 'David-Apollo'


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Recently the National Gallery of Art launched 2013—The Year of Italian Culture by unveiling Michelangelo's “David-Apollo” (pictured at left), which is on view in the West Building's Italian galleries from, through March 3, 2013. First displayed at the Gallery in 1949, this rare marble statue from the Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence, is now among the renowned masterpieces—ranging from classical and Renaissance to baroque and contemporary—that Italy is bringing to some 70 U.S. museums and cultural institutions in 2013. The Gallery will also display “ The Dying Gaul ” (1st or 2nd century AD) from the Capitoline Museum, from October 2013 through February 2014, as part of The Dream of Rome, a project initiated by the mayor of Rome to exhibit timeless masterpieces in the United States from 2011 to 2014.

2013—The Year of Italian Culture is a project launched by Giulio Terzi di Sant'Agata under the auspices of the President of the Italian Republic, Giorgio Napolitano. This program will showcase the best of Italian arts and culture in some 70 U.S. cultural institutions across America in more than 40 major cities, including Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Washington. The initiative will highlight research, discovery, and innovation in Italian culture and identity, focusing on art, music, theater, cinema, literature, science, design, fashion, and cuisine.

The “David-Apollo” first visited the National Gallery of Art more than 60 years ago, as a token of gratitude for postwar aid and to reaffirm the friendship and cultural ties that link the peoples of Italy and the United States. The masterpiece's installation here in 1949 coincided with Harry Truman's inaugural reception. During the next six months the sculpture was seen by more than 791,000 visitors. In 2013, a new generation of visitors to the National Mall around the time of another inauguration—Barack Obama's second—will also have the chance to view the “David-Apollo” .

“With Michelangelo's ‘David-Apollo,’ we are thrilled to continue the Gallery's tradition of showcasing the art of Italy in the nation's capital,” said Earl A. Powell III, director, National Gallery of Art. “ The Gallery has a rich and enduring relationship with the people and culture of Italy. We are home to noted Italian sculptures and drawings, as well as one of the most important collections of Italian paintings in the United States—including the only painting by Leonardo da Vinci in the Americas: Ginevra de' Benci (c. 1474/1478). We have hosted more than 80 exhibitions featuring such international loans, and we are proud to serve as the opening venue for 2013—The Year of Italian Culture. ”

“My country's cultural heritage is a unique 'natural resource,'” said Giulio Terzi di Sant'Agata. “Culture is what immediately comes to mind when you think about Italy. It is indeed a fundamental pillar of our foreign policy. In this spirit we launch the year of Italian culture in the United States in 2013, which will include an impressive program of events in the arts, science, and technology. This initiative will enhance the friendship between Italy and the United States and forge a new legacy for future generations. ”

The presentation has been organized by the National Gallery of Art, Washington, The Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Embassy of Italy in Washington, the Soprintendenza Speciale per il Patrimonio Storico, Artistico ed Etnoantropologico e per il Polo Museale della città di Firenze, and the Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence.

The ideal of the multitalented Renaissance man came to life in Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475–1564), whose achievements in sculpture, painting, architecture, and poetry are legendary. The subject of this statue, like its form, is unresolved. In 1550 Michelangelo's biographer Giorgio Vasari described the figure as "an Apollo who draws an arrow from his quiver," referring to the classical god of music and enlightenment, whose arrows could assail both terrible monsters and disrespectful mortals. A 1553 inventory of the collection of Duke Cosimo I de' Medici, however, calls the work “ an incomplete David by Buonarroti. ” By then it had entered the Palazzo Vecchio (the seat of government in Florence), joining several earlier sculptures of the biblical giant-killer David, a favorite Florentine symbol of resistance to tyranny.

In the “David-Apollo,” the undefined form below the right foot plays a key role in the composition. It raises the foot, so that the knee bends and the hips and shoulders shift into a twisting movement, with the left arm reaching across the chest and the face turning in the opposite direction. This spiraling pose, called serpentinata (serpentine), invites viewers to move around the figure and admire it from every angle. Michelangelo's conceptions of figures in this complex, twisting pose exerted a strong influence on contemporary and later artists. Although he brought the “ David-Apollo ” almost to completion, he left the flesh areas unfinished, as though veiled by a fine network of chisel marks that would have been filed off when the sculpture was completed. Least finished are the supporting tree trunk and the elements that would establish the subject: the rectangle on the figure's back that could become a quiver or sling, and the form under his right foot that could be a stone or the head of the vanquished Goliath.

Michelangelo was carving the “David-Apollo” for Baccio Valori, who was appointed interim governor of Florence by the Medici pope Clement VII in 1530 after the heads of the Medici family and their imperial allies had crushed a resurgence of the republic. Having fought on the republican side, Michelangelo sought to make peace with the Medici. One way to accomplish that goal was by pleasing their agent Valori, for whom the artist worked on this sculpture and on a palace design. He brought the figure tantalizingly close to completion before leaving Florence, never to return, after the death of Clement VII, his patron and protector, in 1534. Valori, who later joined a failed rebellion against the Medici, was executed in 1537, and Duke Cosimo I de' Medici took possession of the statue.

Visit your local library for these resources:

The Architecture of Michelangelo
James Ackerman, (1986).

The Sculpture of Michelangelo
Umberto Baldini and Liberto Perugi (1982).

Herbert von Einem,Trans. Ronald Taylor. (1973).

Michelangelo On and Off the Sistine Ceiling
Creighton Gilbert, (1994).

Howard Hibbard, (1974).

The Young Michelangelo: The Artist in Rome 1496–1501
Michael Hirst and Jill Dunkerton, (1994).

Michelangelo: Sculptor, Painter, Architect
Charles Sala, (1996).

The Poetry of Michelangelo: An Annotated Translation
James M. Saslow, (1991).

Rolland, Romain (2009).

Michelangelo: The Sistine Chapel Ceiling
Charles Seymour, Jr. (1972).

The Agony and the Ecstasy
Irving Stone, (1987).

Michelangelo and the Language of Art
David Summers, (1981).

The Art and Thought of Michelangelo, 5 vols.
Charles de Tolnay, (1964).

Michelangelo: The Artist, the Man and his Times
William E. Wallace,(2011).


Michelangelo Buonarroti (Italian, 1475–1564)
David-Apollo, c. 1530
Museo Nazionale del Bargello – Soprintendenza Speciale per il Polo Museale Fiorentino

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