In Autumn 1504 the Florentines witnessed an exceptional event: after four days travelling round the city, transported with the care and attention normally reserved for great events, inside a wooden cage running on greased beams, Michelangelo’s David finally reached its destination, the Piazza della Signoria – and was immediately celebrated as one of the greatest masterpieces of the Renaissance.
The statue was first intended to be displayed in the Cathedral, but was then felt to be of so great merit as to deserve a more important position.
Chronicles tell us of the immense surprise and marvel that the Florentines showed as it was uncovered. ‘It took the voice away from statues both ancient and modern’, wrote Vasari, author of a famous biography of the artist. Such a superb work had never been seen before either in Florence or elsewhere, with its manifest expression of awareness of power.
The Florentines, who called it Michelangelo’s “giant”, considered it the most explicit example of the spirit of the New Republic that had chased the Medici from Florence in 1494. When he created his David, Michelangelo was not even thirty, but had already produced works of great value such as the Tondo Doni which can be found in the Uffizi today. His David was so successful that he was called back to Rome by the Pope himself, Giulio II, for whom he would then paint the famous Sistine Chapel.
The Florence where Michelangelo was born was already the city of art and trade that we know of as the driving centre of the period of cultural rebirth that we call the Renaissance. It had known artists like Giotto, Masaccio and Donatello, but it was in Michelangelo, and naturally Leonardo da Vinci, that Florence saw the incomparable genius that could best represent its cultural supremacy.