A Word In Edgewise: The Naked Truth

There was some grumbling when such a young man was chosen for the commission; twenty-six! Oh well, the intended block of Carrara marble was flawed–other sculptors had taken whacks, deemed it unusable, and the discarded lump had lain outdoors for twenty-five years. And, one had to admit, a couple of years back he had carved that Pietà…

Michelangelo considered the lump, used his knowledge of form and scale, assessed the marble’s flaws, made his first hammer-strike in 1501, and in 1504 brought forth David.

Intended originally to be one of a series of 17 Old Testament figures placed high in the buttress of the Cathedral of Florence, David, at 17-foot and six tons, was too tall, too heavy–and just too magnificent; the populace wanted him closer, anyway, and he was given street prominence at the Piazza della Signora, taking four days to move the half mile from the sculptor’s workshop.

He’s been on display ever since, now recognizable to countless thousands of all ages, around the whole wide world. We might discuss David’s contrapposto stance, his confident, almost casual pre-battle attitude, note that Goliath’s head, evidence of ultimate victory is not in evidence, and so on. But for this discussion, David’s one salient point is that he is naked: or, if you will, “in-the-buff,” “à poil,” “naked as a jaybird.”

Nakedness of course horrified Queen Victoria; when she was gifted a replica, she ordered a plaster fig leaf cast for modesty (it’s still on display at the Victorian and Albert Museum).

More recently, at a school in Tallahassee, Florida, David’s nudity occasioned the resignation of a school principal after the sculpture’s photo was shown to sixth graders in a class on Renaissance Art. The principal had forgotten to send postcards to parents warning of the nudity, and was offered the choice of being fired or resigning.

According to ex-principal Hope Carrasquilla (who forgot to post those cards), two parents were upset not to have been notified, while another called nakedness akin to pornographic. Barney Bishop III, chair of the school board, told NPR, “It’s not the showing of the picture, it’s the process. Parents are entitled to decide whether any topic, any subject, any use of particular sensitive words are going to be discussed in the classroom.”

How curious. David has been taught before; Tallahassee Classical is a Hillsdale College curriculum school required to teach Renaissance Art in sixth grade. Class schedules are available on the school website, readily available for parents to judge, or for administrators to flag sensitive topics.

But that’s not our bailiwick. Consider rather, that the week following the Florida kerfuffle, tourists–many Americans on spring break–were drawn in droves to Florence’s Galleria dell’Accademia to see David, and to take selfies in front of him, while Dario Nardella, mayor of Florence, and museum director Cecilie Hollberg issued invitations for Carrasquilla and the school community to come and see the sculpture for themselves. “We are talking about the roots of Western culture, and ‘David’ is the height,” asserted Hollberg.

One way or another, the light shines out.

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