Arts & Entertainment

Italy museum director: David statue controversy stems from alarming ignorance

By Javier Romualdo

Florence, Italy, Mar 29 (EFE).- “I was startled. I was surprised and I was frightened, because it’s alarming that there’s so much ignorance,” Cecilie Hollberg, the director of the Florence museum that houses Michelangelo’s David, said of the uproar at a Florida school after an image of the famed nude statue was shown to sixth graders during an art class earlier this month.

When parents complained about the image on March 17, the board of Tallahassee Classical School, a charter school in the state capital, swiftly forced Principal Hope Carrasquilla to resign.

Hollberg, a German-born art historian who since 2015 has been the director of Galleria dell’Accademia di Firenze, one of the world’s most-visited museums, told Efe that ignorance is what led parents to interpret a “pure” and “innocent” nude completed in 1504 as pornographic.

Michelangelo’s art has been altered in the past.

His Sistine Chapel ceiling was repainted to put clothes on some of the figures, while holes are still visible in the plaster fig leaf that was used to hide David’s genitals during the Counter-Reformation.

But Hollberg said there is a key difference between then and now.

“Now very little is taught, if anything at all is taught, about our culture,” she said. “It’s prohibited in school programs everywhere. You can’t even expect a class to be able to recognize the Virgin Mary or Jesus Christ.”

In that regard, the director said what happened at one particular school in the southeastern United States “unfortunately” is part of a global phenomenon.

“We’re headed toward a very strange situation in which a minority rules over the majority. One person said the David is pornographic, and that led to an international scandal that gets politicized, and everyone gets involved,” she added.

According to a news article published last week by WCTV, a television station serving the Tallahassee, Florida, market, Carrasquilla was forced to resign after the image was shown to students between the ages of 11 and 12.

The incident in the classroom was not the only reason the principal was asked to resign, the board chair was quoted as saying in the article, which added that the art teacher who gave the lesson “was required to write an apology letter to parents but received no disciplinary action from the board.”

In the wake of the incident, Galleria dell’Accademia invited Carrasquilla to visit and Florence Mayor Dario Nardella told Efe at his office in the Palazzo Vecchio – a town hall whose entrance features a copy of Michelangelo’s David – that the former principal has been extended an invitation and would be recognized on behalf of the city.

“It’s the stupidest thing I’ve heard,” Nardella said, adding that while it is difficult to imagine a similar episode occurring in Europe, “given the times,” nothing should be ruled out.

“In this era of specialization, we risk losing sight of the values that have sustained modern civilization. And Florence is a fundamental part of that global heritage,” he added.

Hollberg, for her part, pointed out that hundreds of visitors wait their turn to see the David statue, one of Michelangelo’s masterpieces, every day of the year and at all hours of the day, and even did so during the pandemic.

“The museum was built for him,” she added.

Michelangelo’s David arrived at Galleria dell’Accademia di Firenze, a small building on Via Ricasoli, in 1872, with a view to both better safeguarding the statue and surrounding it with other works by that great High Renaissance artist.

A century and a half later, it has grown despite a lack of space and become the second-most visited art museum of its kind in Italy.

Nearly 2 million tourists visit the museum annually to admire Michelangelo’s muscular, confident David, which Italian Renaissance painter, architect and historian Giorgio Vasari described in the 16th century as the “perfect sculpture.”

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