Many years ago (far too many, over two decades) Neil and I visited Italy. It was our second visit, the first being enough to make us fall in love with the country: small villages perched on top of rolling hills, the food, the wine, the weather. I could go on and I struggle to find fault with Italy, although I’ve heard if you live there and need anything doing it’s easy to do so. On our second visit we stayed near Florence – a short walk from our apartment in a converted old stone warehouse led us to a ridge and an expansive view over gorgeous countryside towards the city, the impressive Duomo rising above its buildings.
We’d planned in advance, learning from guidebooks to expect queues at all the major galleries and attractions, that the best thing to do was book ahead and get there early. So it was that we had tickets for an early entrance to the Uffizi Gallery one morning, and for the Galleria dell’Accademia another.
We joined the early crowds at the Galleria, flashed our tickets and shuffled in behind people who paused to view exhibits in the first room. We didn’t. I had my target and we continued moving, marching to the room marked on the map with one word: David. We were the first there and I stopped at my first sight of him rising through the atrium created to hold his height atop a plinth. I have no idea how a piece of cold marble can be so beautiful but he was, and I could have stared at him all day. He was alive in front of me, the blank globes of his eyes seeing me, his lips ready to speak, blood pulsing through veins beneath that smooth skin. I’d never seen a statue that appeared as though it could stretch and casually walk away. I wouldn’t have been surprised if he had. We climbed to the next level to be able to look straight into those eyes and, as more people arrived, left and retraced our steps to see what we had missed. After we’d seen everything else I couldn’t resist diverting for another look, proving that we were right to make him our priority, moth-crowds milling around his bright light, diluting the experience, removing some of the magic.
Recently a schoolteacher in America showed their class a picture of David and was sacked for doing so. Parents complained, two to say they hadn’t been notified of ‘controversial’ topics being taught, another that the image is ‘pornographic’. I forgot to mention that David is naked, and he has a penis, much like every man has. Now I’m no expert, but I’d bet my Galleria dell’Accademia souvenir brochure that any dictionary you look in won’t say picture of male genitalia, or even male genitalia under pornography. (I could check but I can’t be bothered, primarily because I think the situation is ludicrous.) When I saw David I didn’t even notice his penis. Why would I? Half the population of the world has one. It’s part of the male anatomy and, like the rest of the human body, has particular uses.
No one knows what David really looked like, and he wasn’t available to model for Michelangelo. In that artist’s version he is lean and lithe, his muscles sculpted and not a gramme of fat on him. He has a six-pack that any athlete would be proud of, broad shoulders and long limbs. He’s gorgeous to look at not only because he is the epitome of male beauty and strength, but because he was created that way from an unyielding block of solid rock by a man wielding nothing more than a few basic tools. No one goes and sees David because they want to see a naked man; they go and see him because his maker was an outstanding artist.
Ludicrous it may be; it’s also sad. There are at least three children who are growing up being denied the opportunity to appreciate art, even if they don’t find a particular piece beautiful (and I don’t find all art beautiful – some of it is downright ugly, proving that it is all subjective). Even worse, they are being taught that the human body is something it isn’t. Given that the complainants are parents they must either have this particular bit of anatomy or have come across it in the act of procreating.
I say no more except this: if you get a chance, go and see David. Don’t worry about that penis, it’s nothing special, it’s just a normal part of his body. Instead, marvel at how magnificent the man who created him must have been to make that marble body live.
Note: Our trip pre-dated digital photography and the picture above is a digital photograph of a printed photograph developed from film. Despite searching, we can’t find any photos that we may have taken of the real David, leading us to the conclusion that photography was/is banned in the Galleria, which kind of makes sense. We also couldn’t find the photo of the view including Florence that I was sure I’d taken. Clearly my memory for some things isn’t that great.