Everyone has seen photos of Michelangelo's David, but unfortunately the sculpture is invariably shown from the side view, rather than from the front.
The image on the the right is an actual frontal view of David, as he coolly yet menacingly awaits Goliath, his sling at the ready over his shoulder and his face full of disdain. With this lighting, he actually appears to be sneering at the giant. The message of the sculpture is clearly, "You [Goliath, and by extension, Caesar Borgia and any other potential enemy of the Florentine Republic] are dead meat!"
No living person has ever seen or photographed this primary view of the world's most famous sculpture. Since 1873, the original of David has been in the Galleria dell'Academia in Florence, but it was originally turned so as to face into a nearby column, and has been left in that position ever since. In order for anyone to obtain the frontal view of the actual statue, they would have to stand well behind the column, and then use X-ray vision to see through it.
Now, however, thanks to Stanford University's Digital Michelangelo Project, it is possible to obtain virtual views of David from any direction, even through the impeding column! The image shown at right was created with the Project's ScanView software, and is shown here with the kind permission of the project director, Prof. Marc Levoy.
The ideal orientation of the sculpture would be to turn it about 80 degrees clockwise from its present position, so that visitors can appreciate its full impact as they approach it down the long sculpture gallery. Voyeurs who are more interested in David's anatomical details than in his iconography would still be able to obtain fully gratifying views from the left (and right) side rooms, provided it were also pulled forward into the transept.
Dr. Pietro Antonio Bernabei of the Careggi hospital in Florence and Prof. Massimo Gulisano, an anatomist at Florence University, recently announced that every detail of the sculpture "is consistent with the combined effects of fear, tension and aggression," (Hooper, 2005). According to an interview with Bernabei, everything is "consistent with a young man 'at the moment immediately preceding the slinging of a stone.' His right leg is tensed while the left one juts forward 'like that of a fencer, or even a boxer.' Tension is written all over his face. His eyes are wide open. His nostrils are flared. And the muscles between his eyebrows stand out, exactly as they would if they were tightened by concentration and agression." These features of the sculpture are best appreciated in terms of the long-lost frontal view newly depicted here. The tension of the moment even accounts, according to Bernabei, for "a contraction of the reproductive organs," which has puzzled many observers in the past.
Note that the base is aligned about 10 degrees from the sculpture itself, thereby enhancing its dynamic effect. This alignment may also reflect the orientation of the block from which Michelangelo worked. Aligning the statue to face down the sculpture gallery would therefore require placing its base, and therefore its traditional pedestal, at an angle to the building. This might have offended 19th century concepts of symmetry, but today it would be taken in stride. www.econ.ohio-state.edu/jhm/ar…