The David – a response

31 Aug The David – a response

The NYTimes Magazine article about the cracks in Michelangelo’s David — a marble statue housed in the Accademia Gallery in Florence, Italy – has trended since its publication a week ago. In the article author Sam Anderson talks about his obsession with the statue, and refers to the recent realization in a 2014 study showing cracks in the David’s ankles that pose great risk to the work of art, especially in the case of an earthquake (a very real worry in light of the recent, devastating earthquake less than 200 miles away).  What Anderson missed was that the dire threat and these deep cracks were discovered and documented over 30 years ago, by local scientist and pioneer in art diagnostics, Maurizio Seracini.  In 1986, Seracini modeled the statue and raised specific concerns about the deep non-visible cracks in the ankles and along the trunk. At the time he proposed mapping the internal weaknesses and monitoring the statue, and actually received a commitment of over a million dollars of foreign money to finance it.  Unfortunately, much like in Anderson’s present-day article, representatives of the Italian Government, did not want anyone other than the Italian Government to “save” the David and so nothing was done.

Michaelangelo David Wide
Prof Seracini studying David 1986

 

Prof. Seracini proposed the use of ultrasound around the trunk and heel to map the network of cracks and determine how deep they run and to access the state of health of the statue. These results would provide more informed predictive models of what would happen in case of a seismic event and determine the best course to mitigate the risk.

Davidstress1
Images of stresses that have led to deep cracks in ankles and support structure.

 

Through the years Prof. Seracini has been a vocal evangelist for protecting our cultural heritage and specifically the need to develop a clinical chart to determine the health and risks to works like the David. Healthcare for art and architecture involves many of the same diagnostic technologies that we use for humans and we should be employing a similar methodology to the medical field to understand what ails these works and what we can do to help these items age gracefully and last for decades and hopefully generations to come.

Prof. Seracini has been a pioneer in the field of cultural heritage diagnostics, and although happy that prevailing opinion is finally catching up, is very concerned about how many of our cultural treasures are being permanently damaged beyond repair. In fact, he wonders if he will live to see the David properly studied, protected and preserved.

Davidelbow
Visible Cracks of the repaired arm of David. 

 

After more than 30 years of the art world largely ignoring the critical role science can make understanding and guiding the preservation our most precious cultural heritage it is time that we change the dialog and start treating art like our most loved relatives.  Great Masters Art hopes the art and history lovers around the world will force the Italian Government to act in earnest to preserve this remarkable cultural treasure, and solicit help from experts and patrons around the world to save our collective cultural heritage.

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