David, by Michelangelo

In 1501 Michelangelo was commissioned to create the David by the Arte della Lana (Guild of Wool Merchant), who were responsible for the upkeep and the decoration of the Cathedral in Florence. For this purpose, he was given a block of marble which Agostino di Duccio had already attempted to fashion forty years previously, perhaps with the same subject in mind.

Michelangelo breaks away from the traditional way of representing David. He does not present us with the winner, the giant's head at his feet and the powerful sword in his hand, but portrays the youth in the phase immediately preceding the battle: perhaps he has caught him just in the moment when he has heard that his people are hesitating, and he sees Goliath jeering and mocking them. The artist places him in the most perfect " contraposto", as in the most beautiful Greek representations of heroes. The right-hand side of the statue is smooth and composed while the left-side, from the outstretched foot all the way up to the disheveled hair is openly active and dynamic. The muscles and the tendons are developed only to the point where they can still be interpreted as the perfect instrument for a strong will, and not to the point of becoming individual self-governing forms.

The David strikes a simple pose: given its size, any stronger action pose risked compromising balance. At all events, it was an extraordinary accomplishment to have extracted so noble and animated a figure out from such a disproportionately flat rectangular mass.

Supporting his body with the right leg and carrying the left leg forward, the almost divine young hero lets his right hand fall to thigh level as he flexes in the other to shoulder height. His face is bold yet thoughtful: he is defiantly awaiting his adversary and calmly sizing up his chances like a true Florentine as he plans an attack of questionable loyalty.

David struck like lightning. Never before had the naturally sceptical Florentines reacted with such riotous enthusiasm.