“Man is the measure of all things.”
A little noticed case on the back of the plinth of a replica of Michelangelo’s “David” in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London caused the art world to be turned on its ear. Here is the incredible “cover-up” story behind that Victorian inspired case.
The National Gallery, London wished to buy a painting by Ghirlandaio from Florence, but the Grand Duke of Tuscany vetoed the export of the painting; afterward he decided to send Queen Victoria a gift of goodwill to make up for the slight in 1857. The gift was a direct casting in plaster of Michelangelo’s famous classical statue of “David.” Queen Victoria had the replica Renaissance sculpture sent to the new South Kensington Art Museum (now the Victoria and Albert) and it was immediately installed and surrounded by other plaster classical statues and Renaissance reproduction sculptures.
When Queen Victoria and her royal entourage viewed the newly assembled statuary collection, she was shocked and embarrassed by the nudity of the colossal David statue. On her behalf, the famous D. Brucciani & Co. statuary company was commissioned to sculpt a proportional fig leaf to spare the blushes of visiting female dignitaries and the beloved queen. The half meter high (19½”) fig leaf sculpture was hung on the Florentine statue using two strategically placed hooks whenever the queen or female dignitaries came to visit. At the time classical male nudity was a contentious Victorian issue, but the gallery was still used every day by visitors and ladies teaching art classes in the classical manor. Complaints were few if any.
Tin fig leaves were also used on other nude male statuary but finally appreciating the idealistic and naturalistic view of man, the museum dismissed the objections and removed the leaves. The fig leaf is no longer used as a shield of modesty for the statue of David. Instead, the leaf is housed in its own case on the back of the plinth hanging in silent testimony of a bygone era and the act of covering up.
So now when you’re antiquing and see a classic reproduction statue with a strategically placed fig leaf, you’ll know the story of how it got there!
The statue of “David” (1504) is one the most recognizable pieces of art in the world. The original was sculpted by 26 year old Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564) out of one enormous block of solid Carrera marble.
Design Toscano has long appreciated the classic museum piece of the young shepherd, so much so that we offer five different versions of this classic renaissance statue and enduring symbol of Florence. Our reproduction masterpieces are in resin, or bonded marble resin like the “David” Bonded Marble Statue (WU71542 & WU76100) and additional sculptures for home or garden such as “David” Grande, (KY1303) a life-sized sculpture reproduction five feet tall. From gallery to garden our museum-quality classical figurines are sized to fit almost anywhere. You can even have your own direct cast of David’s Head (OS68976) which stands an amazing 4 feet tall! Or for a laugh try our Super-Sized David Garden Statue (KY47038) which imagines David as he would look eating fast food in modern day America.
Design Toscano carries many other classic Michelangelo sculptures for home and garden, a selection of plinths for the statues and for a finishing touch, wall décor to coordinate and a huge selection of accents and gift ideas.
By Sue Mell