A 500-year birthday celebration for David

The city of Florence is throwing a birthday party today for its most popular son, Michelangelo's giant nude statue of David.

The city of Florence is throwing a birthday party today for its most popular son, Michelangelo's giant nude statue of David.

On this date 500 years ago, in front of the Palazzo della Signoria selected by a committee that included Botticelli and Leonardo da Vinci, the masterpiece by the 23-year-old genius was unveiled.

He was intended to symbolise the city's liberty, and the duty of the city government to defend it. "As David defended his people," Michelangelo said of the work, "so those who govern Florence must justly defend her, and govern with justice".

Celebrations include a reading in Palazzo Vecchio, the 14th-century town hall, of accounts of the statue by contemporary writers Giorgio Vasari and Luca Landucci, both of whom saw it being unveiled. Vasari wrote: "This work has put all other statues modern and ancient, Greek and Latin, in the shade."

Last month, more than 110,000 people trooped past David at his present abode in the Accademia Museum. The 13ft 6in statue has survived much. In 1527 part of his left arm was broken off during a riot. In 1810 he was doused in protective wax and in 1843 given a douche of hydrochloric acid, which did his muscle tone no favours.

In 1873 city smog forced David to retreat to the interior of the Accademia, where he has remained.

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