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DR. STEVEN ZUCKER: We've walked into the Academia in Florence, which is an old art school, and is now number one tourist destination in Florence, I think. There's a lot of people here. DR. BETH HARRIS: And there's a long line of people waiting outside to get in. And it's hard to blame them, because inside is Michelangelo's "David," and it's unspeakably beautiful. DR. STEVEN ZUCKER: So this is a sculpture that's often seen as a perfect exemplar of High Renaissance art. And I suppose it's important to get the story out of the way first. So it's an Old Testament story, and it speaks to a young man whose name is David. He was brave enough to take on this terrible giant, this terrible enemy Goliath, that all of the older men are too fearful of to confront. And he does so without any armor. DR. BETH HARRIS: He goes to battle against Goliath on behalf of the Israelites, and defeats Goliath with the help of God. DR. STEVEN ZUCKER: Specifically, with a slingshot and a single rock, but clearly with the help of God. DR. BETH HARRIS: And you can see the slingshot in his left hand, and the rock in his right. And although the Bible says David fought Goliath without armor, it doesn't say completely nude. DR. STEVEN ZUCKER: If you look at the body, of course, it's in a kind of classical contrapposto. The weight is clearly on the right leg. The left leg is free, but the body is engaged in something even more complex and more specific. Much of the body is still relaxed. His right hand is just beginning to tense, and you can see his eyes have darted to his left. His body, it seems to me, is about to swivel and follow the head's movement. And so you have the sense that David has just caught sight of his enemy, and his body is just beginning to tense. He's just preparing to meet Goliath. DR. BETH HARRIS: It's impossible not to notice the remarkable knowledge that Michelangelo brings of the human body and how it works, and the muscles, and the skeletal structure. And he created this ideally beautiful figure. DR. STEVEN ZUCKER: Michelangelo had dissected the human body, understood its internal structure. And this is a fascinating thought. It was not long before this age that in the West, we had no idea how the human body functioned, when we take for granted now in the 21st Century that we understand the mechanics of the body. And so that kind of analysis of the structure of the body is really an extraordinary achievement. This is a sculpture that is about potential. It is showing this idealized body, but in a sense, we can begin to see ourselves in this kind of heroic stance, as well. DR. BETH HARRIS: This is nearly three times the size of a human being. You can see why Michelangelo later got the name Il Divino, the divine one. DR. STEVEN ZUCKER: It's important to remember that Michelangelo is a relatively unknown sculptor at this point. DR. BETH HARRIS: He's young. DR. STEVEN ZUCKER: He's really young. He had had one major commission, which is the "Pieta." And then he comes out with this tour de force, which will bring him an enormous amount of attention. DR. BETH HARRIS: It was commissioned by the city government of Florence in 1501. DR. STEVEN ZUCKER: It was originally going to be placed on one of the Tribunes, high atop the roof line of the Duomo in Florence, that is, of the main cathedral of Florence. DR. BETH HARRIS: So it was meant to be seen from very far below. When Michelangelo showed what he had completed three years later to his patrons, the city government of Florence, they were astounded at how unbelievably beautiful it was. And thought there's no way we want to put this high up. We're going to put it in the Piazza, in the square, in front of the Signoria, in front of the government building of Florence. DR. STEVEN ZUCKER: And that's because not only was this sculpture so extraordinarily beautiful, but because the story of David had come to be aligned with the story of Florence. It was a symbol of the Republic of Florence in opposition to the notion of tyranny. This was a very particular moment in Florentine history. And the Medici had, by that time, actually assumed a great amount of power and had really subverted the Republican ideals of the city. And so this was a brief moment of the flourishing again of these democratic ideals. There are ways in which the pose referred specifically back to classical images of Hercules. And Hercules was a longstanding symbol of Florence as well. So there's a whole set of symbols that surround this figure. DR. BETH HARRIS: By making a colossal male nude, and by that we mean way over life-size, Michelangelo's taking on a type of sculpture that the ancient Greeks and Romans had made, and in a way surpassing what the ancient Greeks and Romans had done, showing that Florence itself had surpassed ancient Greece and Rome, too. We know that Florence saw itself as sometimes the new Athens, or the new Rome. DR. STEVEN ZUCKER: And in fact, an important part of the mythology of Florence was that it had been founded by the ancient Romans, and it was an inherent part of their identity. So this all makes sense. DR. BETH HARRIS: It makes total sense that the government of Florence, the Signoria, would see this sculpture, and bring it to the Palazzo Vecchio, bring it to the seat of government. DR. STEVEN ZUCKER: As this potent symbol. DR. BETH HARRIS: A special conveyance was built to bring it to the Signoria. There were 14 greased logs that rolled it with the power of 40 men-- DR. STEVEN ZUCKER: Over several days. DR. BETH HARRIS: --from the studio to the Palazzo. DR. STEVEN ZUCKER: And they didn't want it to go up in the cathedral. They wanted it close. They celebrated it. The city fell in love with this sculpture. DR. BETH HARRIS: And saw it as the most powerful symbol they could imagine of their renewed republic.