A little more than 500 years ago, Michelangelo sculpted David. It is perhaps the world’s most famous sculpture. David’s athletic, idealized figure is a masterpiece of Renaissance art. But David has an Achilles’ heel: a flaw too subtle for Goliath to exploit, but one that Father Time can. As recently reported by the Huffington Post, David has weak ankles. One expert suggests that David is one good earth tremor from falling off his feet. An Italian commission suggests moving the sculpture to a rumble-free rural setting, but a lengthy restoration process to bolster David’s dual Achilles’ heels seems more likely.
The growing need to sweep David off his feet raises memories of the controversial restoration of Michelangelo’s equally famous Sistine Chapel ceiling. In the 1980s, the Vatican embarked on a lengthy project to restore the famous frescoes. Nineteen years later, the result was a vastly brighter and more vivid set of frescoes than existed previously—but many art experts argued that it was not true to Michelangelo’s original color scheme. And art critics still wonder if the muscular arm put onto Laocoön (of Michelangelo’s Laocoön and His Sons) in 1957 is the original appendage. The arm was attached to the amputated Laocoön after being found in a builder’s yard in Rome fifty years earlier. If the controversies over the Sistine Chapel and Laocoön restorations teach us anything, it’s that art restoration is, itself, as much art as science. Even the most careful art restoration projects alter the original in some way. With all of this in mind, perhaps David would prefer a quiet villa in the Italian countryside to years of reconstructive surgery.
Laocoön and His Sons (photo: Marie-Lan Nguyen)