Fun Facts · Italian · Renaissance Art

David’s Nose: A Fun Fact or Fable

David by Michelangelo
David by Michelangelo Buonarotti, 1501-4. Florence, Galleria dell’Accademia. Photo by Jörg Bittner Unna via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 3.0).

Like many creative people (or just people in general), Italian Renaissance master Michelangelo didn’t like unsolicited feedback on his work. Fortunately, he found a good way of dealing with it.

According to Renaissance art historian Giorgio Vasari, a Florentine official got an early look at Michelangelo’s famous David, a sculpture of the Biblical hero who was a symbol of Florence. The official commented that David’s nose seemed too big. Michelangelo obviously didn’t agree, but I guess this official was too important to say “no” to. So, Michelangelo took a chisel and climbed up the ladder. He tapped David’s nose with the chisel just hard enough that some loose marble dust fell to the ground. David is about 17 feet high, so the official wouldn’t have been able to clearly see what he did. When he climbed back down, the official told him the nose looked so much better now. In reality, nothing had changed.

I’m not sure if this story is actually true. It’s difficult to know with many of Vasari’s tales. However, I like it because there’s an essential truth to it about people not really knowing what they’re talking about.

I read this story in two places: Ingrid Rowland and Noah Charney’s The Collector of Lives: Giorgio Vasari and the Invention of Art (W. W. Norton & Company, 2017) and Andrew Graham-Dixon’s Michelangelo and the Sistine Ceiling (Skyhorse Publishing, 2009).

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