The United States is its own special place of confusion and outrage these days, and one of the latest manifestations of both is the controversy around the teaching and displaying of Michaelangelo’s statue of David. This week, the school board of the Tallahassee Classical School pressured Principal Hope Carrasquilla to resign after an image of the Biblical figure David was shown to a sixth-grade art class. Apparently, three prude parents complained that the school was in violation of the policy requiring parents to be notified in advance about “controversial” topics being taught.
Lest you be unfamiliar with the world’s most famous statue, let me clue you in. David is a 17-foot (5.18-meter) tall (that’s two stories!!) marble statue in the Galleria di Accademia in Florence. The sculpture was originally intended for a niche high up in the Duomo, and had to be large enough to be seen by the people below.
It makes sense that this would be a topic in an art class because it’s truly a feat that it even exists. The massive block of marble was deemed unworkable for sculpture, but 25-year-old Michaelangelo was determined. The statue’s disproportionate features are due to both the shape of the marble and the idea that it would need to be seen from below. The head, arms, and hands are much larger than they should be, giving David a sense of strong purpose. As you can see in the above photo, his right hand is extra large, which is on purpose—a hint of David’s nickname of manu fortis, or strong hand.
Works depicting David prior to Michelangelo showed the head of Goliath at his feet. But Michelangelo swerved from this idea and decided to show him going to fight Goliath armed only with his faith in God.
The 12,500-pound statue was so heavy that there was a change of plans in its location, with the decision to position it in front of the Palazzo Vecchio. It took 40 men four days to haul it from Michelangelo’s workshop to the Piazza della Signoria, where it remained for 369 years until 1872, when it was moved to the Accademia on special train tracks made for the purpose. It still took them three days to move it!
But I must reluctantly turn back to Florida and this bizarre decision by the school board to force the poor principal to resign.
The school board is trying to spin this being about parents’ rights, but one of the complaints was that the statue is ‘pornographic.’ For this to be a controversial topic, the other two parents clearly felt the same way, whether they couched it so or not. Americans have been incredulous, but the Italians even more so.
Cecilie Hollberg, director of the Galleria dell’Accademia responded to an inquiry by the AP by saying:
“To think that David could be pornographic means truly not understanding the contents of the Bible, not understanding Western culture and not understanding Renaissance art.”
This is it in a nutshell. The Renaissance was a time of incredible art creation, the majority of which was meant to glorify God. Remember when I said that Michelangelo’s depiction of David was of him fighting Goliath armed only with his faith in God?
“I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free. ” ~ Michelangelo
The idea that this statue should not be taught in an art class is ludicrous. If anything, the complaint should be more about the lack of separation of church and state for teaching about a religious object! But beyond that, sixth graders are certainly capable of managing looking at a human body in the form of art. Not only is it not porn, but kids are perfectly capable of understanding the difference. When I was in the third grade, I remember kids gossiping about sex, and by the time we got to the sixth grade, a fair number of my friends were no longer virgins. I hate to tell you, but seeing a statue of a naked person will not destroy your child’s innocence.
The Florence mayor has invited the principal to visit and see David herself, and floored by the invitation, she may accept.
And of course, over a decade ago, The Simpson’s totally predicted this would happen.
If you want to learn more about this magnificent work of art, I recommend you turn to two works of historical fiction by two authors I mentioned in last week’s post. Stephanie Storey’s Oil and Marble is about the rivalry between Michelangelo and da Vinci when they both lived in Florence. And Laura Morelli’s The Giant, is all about the creation of the sculpture.
7AM Novelist Podcast
This week I had the pleasure of hanging out with Michelle Hoover, host of The 7AM Novelist, and Lara Prescott, bestselling author of The Secrets We Kept, about the decades-long affair between Boris Pasternak and his mistress and muse, Olga Ivinskaya. We talked all about what it takes to research historical novels. Michelle’s podcast is a treasure trove of fantastic information for writers, so make sure you dig back into the archives for this spring, and for last fall’s excellent series as well. Listen to our episode below:
Speaking of research, I found that somewhere along the way, I saved this fantastic page of information for researching online. I don’t keep the doc, and some of the links may be out of date, but overall it’s chock full of good links.
What’s Bringing Me Joy This Week:
Bowie and Annie Lennox singing Queen’s Under Pressure during the Freddie Mercury tribute concert. This is two videos in one: the actual amazing performance with the rehearsal shown afterward, the latter of which includes a fun dad joke in there from Bowie, and a bit of George Michael.
This beautiful woodcut engraving by Gustave Doré that he created for a publication of Dante’s Divine Comedy.
This adorable baby tapir chewing.
Thanks for joining me! Next week I’ll be doing another book giveaway, so make sure to check back for your chance to win!
If you haven’t read THE CHEF’S SECRET or FEAST OF SORROW, click the links to learn where to buy your copy! 🍒🍗🍷
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One has to wonder-- if this nude is unacceptable, are any naked bodies okay? Or do we subtract the human figure from art entirely? Should breed a very impressive generation of American artists.