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.

10 Facts That You Don't Know About Michelangelo's David

1. Michelangelo's David is massive at 17 feet tall and more than 12,000 pounds, yet it is sculpted from a single block of white marble.

2.The block of marble that Michelangelo used to carve "David" had been worked on more than 50 years earlier by Donatello. At that time the marble was said to have had a flaw in it and the project was abandoned.

3.Michelangelo broke with artistic tradition by portraying David before his battle with Goliath rather than afterwards as seen in earlier representations by Verrocchio and Donatello.

4. Unruly protesters flung a chair that broke the statue's left arm in three spots during an uprising in 1527.

5. In 1857, reigning Queen Victoria was so taken aback by the nudity of a replica David statue that she ordered a plaster fig leaf to be cast to cover his genitals before he went on display at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

6. Although it has remained in Florence for over 500 years, the Italian government recently asked the courts to decide whether the city or the country owns the David.

7. Michelangelo exaggerated the size of David's right hand. Some believe it is a reference to a nickname for the biblical David, which means "strong of hand."

8.That David's eyes are flawed went unnoticed for centuries, perhaps due to the statues' extreme height. However, the 20th-century Digital Michelangelo Project at Stanford University rendered complete images of the statue which revealed that the David's left eye gazes forward while the right eye is focused on some distant spot.

9.In 1873, officials decided to move the David indoors to the Galleria dell'Accademia to protect it from the weather. However, the statue is now suffering from stress fractures caused by the vibrations of scores of tourists filing past.

10. Moving the statue from Michelangelo's studio to the Palazzo Vecchio took forty men and four days, even though the distance was less than a mile.