Plaster cast of Michelangelo's David
Unknown, after Michelangelo
Museum no. REPRO.1857-161
Leonardo da Vinci and Botticelli were on the jury that decided to showcase Michelangelo's sublime youth in Florence's Palazzo Vecchio in 1504 (it was moved to the Accademia in 1873). David was a very conscious essay in homoerotic allure. However, Michelangelo's technique in enlarging an adolescent model to giant proportions has had its critics, including Jakob Burckhardt, the great Renaissance historian, who explained that David's beauty could best be appreciated when the proportions were restored by viewing it through the wrong end of a telescope. This plaster cast arrived (an unsolicited gift from the Duke of Tuscany) at the Foreign Office. It went on show at the South Kensington Museum (the V&A's predecessor) in 1857, intended to instruct the public in the matter of male beauty. It was believed that Queen Victoria was, however, shocked by the penis and a detachable plaster fig-leaf was provided to restore decorum.
Stephen Bayley, Guest Curator