History

Dusting Michelangelo's David: Photos

A routine dusting yields an eye-to-eye view of Michelangelo's masterpiece.

DNews got an extremely rare view of Michelangelo's masterpiece, David, on Monday as restorers armed with brushes and vacuum cleaners dusted the marble statue. The operation, which lasted about five hours, is considered routine maintenance for the famous work of art. During this round, a limited group of reporters were granted exclusive access to the restorers' scaffolding for close-up views of the sculpture. "David needs dusting every 2-3 months on average. It's a procedure we have been carrying out regularly for the last 12 years to prevent dust damage the sculpture," Cecilie Hollberg, director of the Gallery of the Academy of Florence, where the world's most famous sculpture stands, told Discovery News.

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Climbing the two-story scaffolding, you realize how imposing the 14-foot-tall statue is. The first level gets you roughly at David's shoulder -- and the spectacle is breathtaking.

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As you reach the top of the 20-foot-high scaffolding, you get the rare privilege of looking straight into David's eyes. "It's a never-ending emotion. You don't get accustomed to such experience," restorer Emanuela Peiretti told Discovery News. With her colleague Paola Rosa, Peiretti has been dusting David since 2015.

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The towering sculpture, acclaimed for its depiction of male physical perfection, attracts 1.4 million visitors a year. "During the busiest times, dusting is performed every four to five weeks," Hollberg said. The maintenance happens only on Mondays, when the museum is closed to visitors. It's funded by the U.S. non-profit organization, Friends of Florence.

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Only soft brushes and special vacuum cleaners are used to remove the dust from the masterpiece. "Water is banned," the restorers said. The last time David got a bath was in 2003, during a major clean-up. The cleaning, which was finished by 2004, removed gypsum and yellowish spots of beeswax.

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According to Hollberg, regular dusting allows restorers to keep a watchful eye on the marble sculpture. "David is in good health," Hollberg said. A 2014 study warned David's ankles were weak to the point where the statue was at risk of crumbling under its own weight. But that issue has since been addressed. "Everything is under control," Hollberg said.

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David was carved from a single block of marble that two other sculptors, Agostino di Duccio and Antonio Rossellino, had discarded since it had an imperfection. The sculpture, which represents the biblical hero who killed Goliath, marked a watershed in Renaissance art and established Michelangelo as the foremost sculptor of his time at the age of 29. David was displayed on Sept. 8, 1504, beside the main doorway of the Piazza della Signoria in Florence and remained there, exposed to the elements. In 1873 it was moved to its present location in the Galleria dell'Accademia.

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