Finding David in the crowded Galleria della’Academíe di Firenze feels like the Prisoners carved by Michelangelo are breaking away from the stone to reach him

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By Seth Singleton

This is a series of posts following my wife and me on a tour of Italy. Our touchdown in Rome and immediate transfer to Florence by train allowed us to cross the Il Duomo off our list early. 

On Day 3 we seek the statue of David. Our story opens with jet lag, naps, coffee, naps and finally the museum.

Our Journey Begins at the End of a Celebration

What a confusing time a day can feel and be without enough sleep. The night had been a dizzying affair. After eating too much — not really too much, but more, so much — good food during a glorious dinner reservation arranged by friends of Tracy at La Casalinga, the enormity of our meal demanded we rest for just a moment.
We had returned to our Airbnb. I was supposed to make a call to Jabari to go over the details of the meeting that I missed while we were at dinner.
I was fighting 22 hours of sleepless travel ended by a four-hour nap and 18 hours of sights and then five hours of sleep. Whatever additional hours of sleep Tracy had gained over me, and been fitful at best.
I opened my notes and corresponding documents in GDrive. My eyes would not focus. The ratio of sleep to awake was catching up.

Promises, Promises

My promises to myself that I just needed 10 minutes to close my eyes and collect my notes first, were futile and foolhardy. The notes were useless if I could not open my eyes to read them. I was exhausted and I was spinning across my list of goals when sleep brought me down and away.
I am sure that my alarm went off and that I turned it off and I am sure I don’t remember. I woke up hours later.
I inhaled my first three pots of coffee and scheduled a time to call Jabari. The pots are small, strong, and take forever to kick in. When they do, it feels electric.
It was a review call, most of the topics had been covered two days prior, but new details were always developing. One writer was working on plotting, editing would be staged in layers, and everyone’s assignments were beginning to set like we concrete molds.
When we were done, I crawled back into bed with Tracy.
She continued to the toss and turn and then so did I. The mosquitoes were feasting and just when I thought that I had killed the last one, I would wake up 20-45 minutes later to a buzzing sound near my ear. Once I killed it or gave up trying I would find the 1-3 new bug bites that were the size of a quarter — or a two Euro coin —  or larger.
When I could not sleep anymore, I read and made edits to the document that Jabari and I had talked over.
Tracy had given up hope for trying to get any more sleep. We found a brunch spot, mapped our walk, left with bellies sated. Then we walked back toward the Il Duomo-side of the Basilica Saint Mary of the Flower.

Walking like a Ghost

The tour organizer who had helped us reach the top the day before was named E. Patel. He smiled each time I asked what name the letter E began to spell. When we spoke with him the day before to schedule our tour to the top of the Duomo, he had mentioned that individual tickets for David usually had a 3-4 day wait because of its popularity. We had considered that option before we left the United States, but we had both experienced the unpredictability of domestic and international air travel. When we had factored in our train ride from Rome to Florence, the list of variables had outweighed the benefit of buying tickets for David in advance online.
The best bet if time was short, and it was, was to find a tour company that had already purchased tickets and squeeze in with them. I knew that E Patel had tickets available when he was telling us. But, that was the day before. Today we needed to find out if he had tickets that would fit our schedule.
We found E. Patel. He smiled at our request and called over an associate who made an appointment for 3:30 p.m. later that same day. He handed us our receipt and we started walking.
It was 1:10 p.m. Two hours to use and after ten minutes I knew I needed more sleep. Tracy asked what I wanted to do next. I tried to stall and see if I could do something like shop, or find a place to relax. A few minutes later and I had no suggestions. I said I needed to go back to sleep before the tour. She guided us back to our place. We walked into the apartment at 1:25.
I set the alarm for an hour and it seemed only minutes later when Tracy was waking me up. I dressed to head back out.
Ten minutes later we met our guide Silvia and the group outside the Galleria dell’Accademia di Firenze or the Accademia Gallery Museum of Florence, Italy.

The Academy Tour

After my short nap, the heat of the sun felt draining. I looked around to see others seeking shade or something to drink and I felt a little better.
We waited for 20 minutes and then Sylvie handed out the same receivers and headphones that we wore on our tour of the Duomo.
Our audio check-in to confirm that the units all worked was followed by directions to follow her to the security checkpoint. Bags were scanned, and phones were checked through. We were reminded that all areas allowed photography without using a flash.
Sylvie provided a brief historical context for the Academy. It was established in the 18th century to be a school of art and took over two spaces that were originally the Hospital of Saint Matthew and the Convent of Saint Niccolo’ of Cafaggio. A complete history is available here.

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That’s our guide Sylvie in the bottom right corner.

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The walls were hung with paintings from convents and monasteries and the hallways lined with sculptures. These collections were rescued from the widespread suppression by Grand Duke Leopold of Lorraine and later expounded by Napolean the Great were learning tools for the students.

Signs of International Gothic

Sylvie pointed out that some of the stranger aspects of the paintings and other art reflected the customs and fashions of the times. She pointed to three or four lesser-known works that appeared to be men in dresses until she explained that the women were part of a wedding painting. At that time it was fashionable for women to shave their foreheads. So, we were not looking at balding men, but women.
This wedding painting and others like it were examples of international gothic. Odd angular proportions of arms, hands, bodies, and heads were common.
Sylvie invited us to compare the works we saw here with the Madonna, the Mona Lisa in Paris, and Brunelleschi and the Duomo and the Tower.
Sylvie reminded us that the purpose of this art was equal parts religious worship and practical investment in the afterlife. Essentially, you could buy paradise by commissioning a painting or sculpture featuring religious subjects.
We received a review on the Renaissance from Sylvie. She reminded us of the change that the new view of thinking brought to artists in every field.
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She then told us that the statues of the prisoners were the first teachers of Michelangelo.
Michaelangelo believed that the spirit is a prisoner in our bodies. The statues are slaves.
Then she brought us to the statue of David.
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David is the moment before the kill. He is calm and thoughtful and preparing for the battle that he has agreed to fight.
A shepherd, sling over his shoulder, stones in his hand.
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His hands are so big. They were meant to be viewed from below. The angle and degree that it is seen from now are different from its original intention.
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David was carved from a single block of rare marble. Two other artists attempted to carve this statue. They both stepped away from the project and cited that it was too hard.
Florentines fell in love with it.
They called it the Giant.
Michelangelo was buried in Christi church.

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