As you marvle at the masterpieces of the Renaissance abundant throughout Florence, you probably never stop to contemplate the question: who owns these great works of art? But this question is a very pertinent one to Florentines at the moment. Who owns the statue of David and the estimated 10 million Euros he brings in per year? This very issue is under consideration by the State government in Rome and discussions are underway between the national government and the commune. The question, raised in response to the State's request for a larger share of the revenue the famed statue brings in to the Galleria dell'Accademia, can be viewed as part of a larger issue concerning who owns the cultural heritage and artwork throughout Italy, and, similarly, who should be responsible for the maintenance and management of the objects. What the matter really comes down to, though, is who should be on the receiving end of the income?
So who are the contendors in this match-up? On one side of the ring we have the mayor of Florence, Matteo Renzi, and Cristina Acidini, superintendent of the Polo Museale Fiorentino, the organization that manages the state museums in Florence. On the other, we have Sandro Bondi, minister of the Beni or cultural heritage and art of Italy. Acidini and Renzi claim unequivocal ownership of the statue created by a Florentine for Florentines some five hundred years ago, and, therefore, control of the funds the statue brings in from the flood of tourists who flock to catch a glimpse of Il gigante. The David alone reportedly brings in approximately 12% of the total tourist revenue for the city. Let's stop to think about this: start with the almost one million paying visitors who went to the Accademia last year, multiplied by the 6.50 euro price paid for the entrance ticket, which does not take into account the 4 euro reservation fee most visitors pay. If only half of the 1 million visitors pay the reservation fee, a low-end estimate, the Galleria dell'Accademia makes a grand total of 8.5 million per year - at least. And this amount still does not account for the countless David souvenirs sold in Florence - anything from statuettes to men's underwear - which also constitues a part of the tourist revenue the statue draws in for both the Accademia and the city itself.
Now to the prize in question: Michelangelo's nude masterpiece. For almost three hundred years, David stood in all his glory in front of the Palazzo Vecchio in the Piazza della Signoria, the paramount symbol of Florence's republican spirit. Here, in the palace then known as the Palazzo dei Priori, lived the priors of the city and here the basic civic functions of the republic took place. In 1873, to protect David's perfection from the elements, he was transported into the Gallerie dell'Accademia for preservation purposes. Carved from a 16-foot slab of white marble over a period of three years and completed in 1504 when Michelangelo was a mere 29 years old, the David represented the patriotism of Michelangelo and his fellow Florentines and the triumph of the commune over domination and tyranny from outside threats. Originally meant to stand atop the roof of the Duomo, David's oddly disproportional hands and head are less the effect of any anatomical miscalculation on Michelangelo's part, as proof of the artist's profound understanding of sculpture and perspective. Few would dare contest the beauty and perfection of this 14-foot statue.
But what can be disputed, and which currently stands trial, is the proprietà, or ownership, of the statue. However, a twelve-page document dating from November 9, 1871, between the Regio Governo and the Municipio di Firenze, attests to the commune's ownership of the Palazzo Vecchio, the Piazza della Signoria, and the adjoining objects of art, including Michelangelo's masterpiece. Hard to argue against original documentation. Except for when the government has spent money on preserving, maintaining, and protecting the object in question. After cutting state funds for the maintenance of the cultural sites and artifacts of Italy, such as the David, the government now asks for a larger cut of the revenue these objects bring in, to which Florence has responded with a resounding, No, the David is ours.
Florentine legislators have submitted two proposals in Parliament to handle the situation in Florence, hoping to gain a special law regulating the relationship between city and state as well as the ownership of the statue. As discussions proceed between Florence and the national government, the parties involved recognize the potential applicability of the solution to the larger issue pertinent to all of Italy, of the ownership of and responsibilty for Italy's history. In addition to Florence, the legislation could affect other cities with a strong cultural heritage and may affect all state museums using government money while pocketing the proceeds.
Regardless of which side prevails, the David will remain safely where he stands in the Galleria dell'Accademia. His revenue, though, may no longer be contained within the walls of Michelangelo's beloved city, which mighty David continues to watch over and protect against outside intruders.
Written by Jessica Card
Art History Intern at The Florence Newspaper