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  • When we think of classic works of art,

  • the most common setting we imagine them in is a museum.

  • But what we often forget is that much of this art

  • was not produced with a museum setting in mind.

  • What happens to an artwork

  • when it's taken out of its originally intended context?

  • Take the example of Michelangelo's Statue of David,

  • depicting the boy hero who slew the giant philistine, Goliath,

  • armed with only his courage and his slingshot.

  • When Michelangelo began carving a block of pure white marble

  • to communicate this famous Biblical story,

  • the city of Florence intended to place the finished product

  • atop their grand cathedral.

  • Not only would the 17 foot tall statue

  • be easily visible at this height,

  • but its placement alongside 11 other statues

  • of Old Testament heroes towering over onlookers

  • would have a powerful religious significance,

  • forcing the viewer to stare in awe towards the heavens.

  • But by the time Michelangelo had finished the work, in 1504,

  • the plans for the other statues had fallen through,

  • and the city realized that lifting such a large sculpture to the roof

  • would be more difficult than they had thought.

  • Furthermore, the statue was so detailed and lifelike,

  • down to the bulging veins in David's arm

  • and the determination on his face,

  • that it seemed a shame to hide it so far from the viewer.

  • A council of politicians and artists

  • convened to decide on a new location for the statue.

  • Ultimately voting to place it in front of the Palazzo della Signoria,

  • the town hall and home of the new Republican government.

  • This new location transformed the statue's meaning.

  • The Medici family, who for generations had ruled the city

  • through their control of banking, had recently been exiled,

  • and Florence now saw itself as a free city,

  • threatened on all sides by wealthy and powerful rivals.

  • David, now the symbol of heroic resistance against overwhelming odds,

  • was placed with his intense stare,

  • now a look of stern warning, focused directly towards Rome,

  • the home of Cardinal Giovanni de Medici.

  • Though the statue itself had not been altered,

  • its placement changed nearly every aspect of it

  • from a religious to a political significance.

  • Though a replica of David still appears at the Palazzo,

  • the original statue was moved in 1873

  • to the Galleria dell'Accademia, where it remains today.

  • In the orderly, quiet environment of the museum,

  • alongside numerous half-finished Michelangelo sculptures,

  • overt religious and political interpretations fall away,

  • giving way to detached contemplation of Michelangelo's

  • artistic and technical skill.

  • But even here, the astute viewer may notice

  • that David's head and hand appear disproportionately large,

  • a reminder that they were made to be viewed from below.

  • So, not only does context change the meaning

  • and interpretation of an artwork throughout its history,

  • sometimes it can make that history resurface

  • in the most unexpected ways.

When we think of classic works of art,

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B2 TED-Ed statue michelangelo david viewer religious

【TED-Ed】The many meanings of Michelangelo's Statue of David - James Earle

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