David is a masterpiece of Renaissance sculpture sculpted by Michelangelo from 1501 to 1504. It is the statue of the young Israelite king David alone that almost certainly is one of the most recognizable stone sculptures in the history of art. It is regarded as a symbol both of strength and youthful human beauty. The 5.17 meter (17 ft) marble statue portrays the Biblical King David in the nude, at the moment that he decides to battle with Goliath. It came to symbolize the defense of civic liberties embodied in the Florentine Republic, an independent city state threatened on all sides by more powerful rival states and by the hegemony of the Medici themselves. This interpretation was also encouraged by the original setting of the sculpture outside the Palazzo della Signoria, the seat of civic government in Florence. The completed sculpture was unveiled on 8 September 1504.
Rossellino's contract was terminated, soon thereafter, and the block of marble originally from a quarry in Carrara, a town in the Apuan Alps in northern Italy, remained neglected for twenty-five years, all the while exposed to the elements in the yard of the cathedral workshop. The rain and wind weathered it down to a smaller size than was originally planned. This was of great concern to the Operai authorities, as such a large piece of marble was both costly, and represented a large amount of labor and difficulty in its transportation to Florence. In 1500, an inventory of the cathedral workshops described the piece as "a certain figure of marble called David, badly blocked out and supine." A year later, documents showed that the Operai were determined to find an artist who could take this large piece of marble and turn it into a finished work of art. They ordered the block of stone, which they called The Giant, "raised on its feet" so that a master experienced in this kind of work might examine it and express an opinion. Though Leonardo da Vinci and others were consulted, it was young Michelangelo, only twenty-six years old, who convinced the Operai that he deserved the commission. On August 16 1501, Michelangelo was given the official contract to undertake this challenging new task. He began carving the statue early in the morning on Monday, September 13, a month after he was awarded the contract. He would work on the massive biblical hero for a little more than three years.
On January 25 1504, when the sculpture was nearing completion, a committee of Florentine artists including Leonardo da Vinci and Sandro Botticelli met to decide on an appropriate site for the David. The majority, led by Giuliano da Sangallo and supported by Leonardo and Piero di Cosimo, among others, believed that due to the imperfections in the marble the sculpture should be placed under the roof of the Loggia dei Lanzi on Piazza della Signoria. Only a rather minor view, supported by Botticelli, believed that the sculpture should be situated on or near the cathedral. Eventually the David was placed in front of the entrance to the Palazzo Vecchio, also on Piazza della Signoria, replacing Donatello's bronze sculpture of Judith and Holofernes, which embodied a comparable theme of heroic resistance. It took four days to move the statue from Michelangelo's workshop onto the Piazza della Signoria.
In the High Renaissance, contrapposto poses were thought of as a distinctive feature of antique sculpture. As exemplified In Michelangelo’s David, sculptured from 1501-1503, the figure stands with one leg holding its full weight and the other leg relaxed. This classic pose causes the figure’s hips and shoulders to rest at opposite angles, giving a slight s-curve to the entire torso. In addition, the statue faces to the left while the left arm leans on his left shoulder with his sling flung down behind his back. Michelangelo’s David has become one of the most recognized pieces of Renaissance Sculpture ever, becoming a symbol of both strength and youthful human beauty.
The proportions are not quite true to the human form; the head and upper body are somewhat larger than the proportions of the lower body. The hands are also larger than would be in regular proportions. While some have suggested that this is of the mannerist style, another explanation is that the statue was originally intended to be placed on a church façade or high pedestal, and that the proportions would appear correct when the statue was viewed from some distance below.
The apparently uncircumcised form would be at odds with Judaic practice, but would be consistent with the conventions of Renaissance art.
The cast of David at the South Kensington Museum (now the Victoria and Albert Museum), had a detachable plaster fig leaf, added for visits by Queen Victoria and other important ladies, when it was hung on the figure using two strategically placed hooks; it is now displayed nearby.
In 1991, a deranged man attacked the statue with a hammer he had concealed beneath his jacket, in the process damaging the toes of the left foot before being restrained. The samples obtained from that incident allowed scientists to determine that the marble used was obtained from the Fantiscritti quarries in Miseglia, the central of three small valleys in Carrara. The marble in question contains many microscopic holes that cause it to deteriorate faster than other marbles. Because of the marble's degradation, a controversy occurred in 2003, when the statue underwent its first major cleaning since 1843. Some experts opposed the use of water to clean the statue, fearing further deterioration. Under the direction of Dr. Franca Falleti, senior restorers Monica Eichmann and Cinzia Pamigoni began the job of restoring the statue. The restoration work was completed in 2004.
In 2008, plans were proposed to insulate the statue from the vibration of tourists' footsteps at Florence's Galleria dell'Accademia, to prevent damage to the marble.