From Marble to Flesh
The Biography of Michelangelo’s David
By A. Victor Coonin
The story of Michelangelo’s David begins long before Michelangelo ever set chisel to stone. The gigantic block of Carrara marble that was to become the David was quarried more than half a century before anyone saw the statue set up in Florence’s piazza della Signoria. And in between, there’s a litany of contracts, artists and projects in different media while the patrons, the Operai del Duomo, searched for perfection, and finally got it from Michelangelo.
The life of David takes unexpected turns in later centuries. It has been seriously damaged several times both intentionally and by accident. Controversies and scandals erupted in the 19th century as the statue was almost destroyed by cleaning with acid and then moved for safeguarding to the Accademia Gallery. In the 20th and 21st centuries he’s become an artistic and popular icon as well as a symbol of Italy.
The story of David is rich in conflict, tension, controversy and cultural meaning. It is a very human story of a life-like work of art. Victor Coonin tells this story as a centuries-long biography that explains why David still resonates loudly with a contemporary audience.
About the author
A. Victor Coonin is James F. Ruffin Chair of Art at Rhodes College. He has received fellowships and grants from the Mellon, Kress, and Fullbright foundations and has served on committees for the Fullbright, National Endowment for the Humanities, and College Art Association. Author of numerous articles and editor of 2 books, this is his first monograph.
This book was cited in the New York Times Magazine cover article “David’s Ankles: How Imperfections Could Bring Down the World’s Most Perfect Statue” by Sam Anderson as the “definitive recent history” of the statue.
On Tuesday May 16, 2017, the book was the subject of the Final Jeopardy question, officially launching its position in pop culture.
The following review appeared in Choice Magazine, Feb 2015.
This volume by Coonin (Rhodes College) begins with the famous 1991 attack on Michelangelo’s David that set the stage for a modern-day reassessment of this important Renaissance sculpture. The story of the David is a famous one, but Coonin enlivens the narrative by detailing its conception out of the block of marble cut from the quarry of Fantiscritti to its creation, its political implications in the Renaissance, and its critical appraisal throughout history. The discourse surrounding the removal of the sculpture from outside, in the Piazza della Signoria, into the Accademia Gallery in Florence, is a fascinating case study on how a work of art can increase in fame with its relocation, which in this case led to an outpouring of scholarship on the statue and its preservation. Coonin’s narrative also shows how a work of art becomes famous and how that fame shapes and changes the understanding of, and interest in, such a work of art. This brings readers back to a better understanding of the 1991 act of vandalism that further confirms how highly fetishized Michelangelo’s David has become. Summing Up: Recommended. Lower-level undergraduates through graduate students; general readers.
–A. L. Palmer, University of Oklahoma