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‘David’ looks radiant after makeover

The marble statue of "David,"  the young Biblical hero who took on Goliath, appeared more radiant Monday than it did before the cleaning.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The contested cleaning of “David” is done, with decades of grayish grime stripped from Michelangelo’s towering tribute to nude male beauty months ahead of 500th anniversary celebrations for the masterpiece.

Bathed in natural light streaming through the dome of Florence’s Accademia Gallery, the marble statue of the young Biblical hero who took on Goliath appeared more radiant Monday than it did before the cleaning. The restoration resumed in September after an aborted start when the original restorer quit in a dispute over how the statue should be cleaned.

“David” draws 1.2 million admirers a year, making it one of the art world’s biggest draws.

While the restoration reportedly proceeded without surprises, the scrutiny exposed what appeared to be fragility of the statue’s ankles, which support more than six tons of dead weight.

“’David’ is still itself, only what has changed is his luminosity,” said restorer Cinzia Parnigoni, who, working atop scaffolding for months, applied “mud packs” of cellulose pulp and clay to soak away the dirt as tourists gawked.

After months of restoration, the sculpture is “less cold,” she said in an interview with The Associated Press before a news conference to present conclusions about the cleaning.

A veteran of Renaissance art restoration who used distilled water to clean Michelangelo’s unfinished series of sculptures, “Prisoners,” also in the Accademia, Parnigoni replaced another respected restorer, Agnese Parronchi, who feared water could harm the surface.

Parronchi wanted to brush away the dirt in a “dry” cleaning.

“It would be presumptuous to hope to placate polemics” over the restoration, Parnigoni said Monday. “I tried to do my best, but I’m sure someone might not be happy.”

Vigorous denunciation
Leading an unsuccessful petition drive to halt the restoration was James Beck, the Columbia University art professor known for his vigorous denunciation of the restoration of Michelangelo’s frescoes in the Sistine Chapel as too harsh.

Parnigoni has said the cleaning has restored uniformity to the masterpiece.

In addition to distilled water, mineral spirits were applied to remove centuries’ buildup of candlewax, and “age spots “ — blotches of sulfate desposits — were chipped away with a scalpel-like instrument.

“David” has weathered a lot more than controversy since being unveiled in September 1504. In 1527, the statue was damaged during a riot in Piazza Signoria, Florence’s main square. The statue survived an 1843 cleaning with chloric acid — a method unthinkable by scientists, engineers and others today developing new restoration approaches.

The masterpiece was installed in the gallery in 1873 to help protect it, but in 1991 an Italian painter smashed the second toe of the left foot with a hammer.