Michaelangelo's David restored

Michelangelo's masterpiece regains its magnificence

On 24 May 2004 Michelangelo's DAVID will once again stand in splendid isolation in the Tribuna of the Galleria dell'Accademia. In fact the scaffolding and equipment required for the complex work of restoration that commenced in situ in September 2002 will be removed. A long and delicate operation that has permitted the recovery of much of the harmony of the modelling of Michelangelo's masterpiece, but without losing the contrasts of light and shade deliberately created by the great artist to give greater expressiveness and incisiveness to the face and figure of David.

The work of cleaning, conducted since September 2003 by Cinzia Parnigoni, under the guidance of Franca Falletti, director of the Galleria dell'Accademia, with the fundamental support of the Opificio delle Pietre Dure, directed by Cristina Acidini, and the constant supervision of Laura Speranza, director of the Restoration of Stone Materials Section of the Opificio, and preceded by an intense and complex programme of investigations devised and coordinated, on behalf of the Opificio delle Pietre Dure, by Mauro Matteini, director of the Institute for the Conservation and Enhancement of the Cultural Heritage at the CNR, has reached its conclusion. The method adopted the application of distilled water by means of compresses of cellulose pulp and meerschaum placed on top of a sheet of rice paper has been varied to meet the needs of the different parts of the famous statue that required treatment.

In particular in the area of the face, which was in an especially good state of preservation and where no significant presence of gypsum was detected, the (extremely gentle) cleaning was carried out solely with a swab of cotton wool soaked in distilled water. At other points, on the strength of the results of specific analyses, the cleaning was done by applying a compress made up solely of distilled water and rice paper.

In its present state Antonio Paolucci, Superintendent of the Polo Museale Fiorentino, Cristina Acidini and Franca Falletti all concur the surface of the DAVID looks more regular and more balanced in its relations of light and shade. On the front part of the torso, along the right side and in many other zones where the level of degradation was lower, the surface has regained the brilliance of the marble. In numerous parts where round stains had formed, such as the rock base, or vertical bands, as on the back, it was a question of attenuating the striped effect by passing the swab, after applying the regular compress, only over the darker lines. The attenuation of the vertical stripes has rendered the modelling of the limbs, which is largely horizontal in direction, more evident.

Some stains have resisted the cleansing treatments that we considered absolutely safe: nothing has been done with those. Their presence, moreover, is not particularly disturbing in an overall view. The primary aim of the intervention on the DAVID, without taking anything away from the aesthetic improvements, remains that of conservation. Thus the most important result has been that of having brought the presence of gypsum on the surface back within limits that pose no threat to the future of the work, a result that has been attained through the application of extractive compresses of distilled water.

In order to guarantee the best possible conservation of the David in the years to come, it has been decided to follow up the operation of cleaning with a programme of monitoring and maintenance, worked out on the basis of all the new understanding of the work and its history that has been acquired.

The programme envisages a series of investigations of the environment that will be carried out continuously for two years and then be repeated at regular intervals. And a series of examinations, to be repeated every two years with the aim of gathering constant information on the main parameters of surface degradation, such as greying of colour, deposit of harmful substances, especially gypsum, and wearing of the surface. In parallel a programme of maintenance has been initiated that will entail eight operations of inspection and dusting a year, to be carried out on each occasion by the person who conducted the restoration.

Environmental studies were necessary to determine the level of pollution of the air around the statue. On the basis of the results attained so far, it can be said that the situation with regard to acid gaseous pollutants is not unfavourable. Other investigations will clarify the nature of the dynamic flows of air in the Tribuna of the David, where it has been found that dust brought in by the continual flow of visitors accumulates with great rapidity. Steps will have to taken to curb the effects of this phenomenon.

With regard to the stability of the David and the cracks detected in the ankles as far back as the middle of the 19th century, the research group has been able to establish that the cracks are due to the effects of traction induced by the forward inclination assumed by the statue when it was located in Piazza della Signoria. This inclination is thought to have been caused by subsidence of the foundations on which the base stood, probably partly as a consequence of the flood of 1844. It has also been shown that in its present position the stresses to which the statue is subjected remain within the limits of safety. However, the real problem faced by the David is the capacity of the large statue to resist powerful earth tremors.

Given the importance of the work, we consider it necessary to take even this extreme hypothesis into consideration. However, further study is required before the conclusions can be regarded as exhaustive. The main problems concerning the stability of the David will be examined and debated at a conference promoted and organized by the Board of Engineers, which will be held at the Galleria dellUAccademia on 9 June.

The city and the whole world will officially celebrate the DAVID on 8 September, the anniversary of the day on which the magnificent sculpture was shown to the Florentines for the first time, in a ceremony that will open the commemorations of its fifth centenary. Then there will be an important opportunity for historical and critical reflection on MichelangeloUs masterpiece at the end of November, when an exhibition will be inaugurated at the Galleria dellUAccademia in which the highest aspirations of contemporary art will be assembled around MichelangeloUs statue, including works created especially for the purpose. The choice has fallen on four great exponents of contemporary sculpture (George Baselitz, Luciano Fabro, Jannis Kounellis and Robert Morris) whose work reflects the process of crisis of form through which the medium of sculpture has passed since MichelangeloUs day. The exhibition will also include the work of a photographer (Thomas Struth). Each of these artists has been asked to create a work that will explore this problem at the same time as paying a tribute to the David.

The exhibition will be accompanied by a series of collateral initiatives open to the public meetings, debates, performances of music and dance P that are intended to extend the impact of the main event beyond the confines of the museum and beyond the duration of the exhibition.

Florence, 24 May 2004

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