Marble Sculpture and a Case Study of Michelangelo's Statue of David

Tuesday, October 28, 2014: 8:40 AM
Presenter: Cynthia Rothwell , Savannah College of Art and Design, Savannah, GA
Co-Presenter: Thomas Taylor, PhD, FAIC, FAPT , Savannah College of Art and Design, Savannah, GA
This research paper discusses the use of marble as a medium for sculpture, the nature of marble and the problems inherent therein, and various methods of conservation science utilized to counteract those problems. The problems and treatments discussed in this paper deal specifically with outdoor sculpture, which faces many challenges. Some of the treatment methods discussed include steam cleaning, the use of chemicals and biological solutions, poulticing, and laser divestment. Included in the discussion of treatments is a section on a latex product developed to clean marble statuary that is applied and peeled off the marble 24 hours later. The pros and cons of all the treatments discussed are also presented with the discussion of each method. In the section discussing marble and its properties, some beautiful examples of what can be achieved with this material are given.

As the main example of marble sculpture, I present a case study of one of the most iconic marble statues in the world: Michelangelo Buonarotti's statue of David in Florence, Italy. In this study of the 510 year old piece of sculpture, I chronicle the various incidents resulting in damage it has sustained over the course of history, the restoration treatments it has undergone throughout time, up to and including the most recent, highly debated restoration of 2002. While it is true that this piece of sculpture is now an indoor piece of sculpture, it must not be forgotten that David spent his first 300 years outside in the Piazza Signoria, thus making it an excellent example of what happens when marble sculpture spends long periods of time in the elements. In tracing the damage inflicted upon David and the various forms of repair and treatment he underwent, an interesting history of marble conservation is presented from the 1500's to 2002 when the last cleaning and restoration took place.

The case study also discusses the history of the statue itself. This includes its design inception and attempts, its significance to Florence at that time in history and the fascinating history of the piece of marble that became one of the best known and loved sculptures in Italy, indeed, in the world.

This paper concludes with a section about the ongioing studies taking place on David at the Accademia di Belle Arti using the technology of fiber optic sensors and wireless communication. This fiber optic study relates to  the cracks in David's legs and the trunk he rests upon, and how they react to vibration, temperature and inclination. Another study currently in progress deals with assessing the effects of dispersing air away from David to counteract the air pollution the visitors bring in with them. Both studies are yielding very promising information.

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