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The Meeting of Geniuses (3)

On a bitter day in January, 30 of the greatest artists in the history of Florence met at the cathedral work yard to discuss the David. The group included all of the surviving painters who had worked on the wall frescoes in the Sistine Chapel — Botticelli, Rosselli, Signorelli, and Perugino. Filippino Lippi, who had finished painting Masaccio’s paintings in the Brancacci Chapel, was there. So were Michelangelo’s friends Francesco Granacci and Giuliano Sangallo. Perhaps most important of all, Leonardo da Vinci was there.

Michelangelo didn’t attend. He paced back and forth in a freezing wind at the top of the Campanile looking down on the square so he could watch the artists as they left the meeting. He was waiting for Granacci, who would climb the tower to tell him what happened.

Florence Campanile

Florence Campanile

The meeting ended just before sunset, and as Granacci climbed the tower the bells tolled the Angelus.

“Well, what happened,” Michelangelo said anxiously when Granacci finally arrived.

“It was just as you thought,” Granacci said, his ears still ringing from the bell. “The herald for the Signoria spoke first. He said they want the statue right outside the main entrance to the palazzo, where Donatello’s Judith now stands. He said a woman killing a man should not be the symbol of the city. He also said we have had nothing but bad luck since it was placed there.”

“And the others, what did they have to say? Did they like it?”

“First they complained about all of the marble dust in the work yard, and the cold, wondering how you could stand to work there. Botticelli spoke first. He said he thought your statue should be placed on the front steps of the cathedral. But I really think he was more concerned about the thought of removing the Judith given his fondness for the story. Rosselli quickly agreed with him, and many of the others said it was the best place: a church setting for a biblical story.”

Judith with Head of Holofernes by Botticelli

Judith with Head of Holofernes by Botticelli

“So will they put it in front of the cathedral? What a waste. It will be ruined there.”

“Sangallo, diplomatic as ever, agreed with Botticelli and the rest, but then said he thought the statue might look best in the loggia where it would be protected from the elements. Others agreed, although some wanted the David in front, others in back. Some spoke for the middle, others for one of the ends. They argued like children.”

“Did Leonardo say anything?”

“He sat next to Sangallo the whole time, working on a sketch of the David in his notebook. He was the last to speak.”

“Did he say anything about the statue?”

Leonardo's Sketch of David

Leonardo’s sketch of David

“He agreed that it should be placed in the loggia, but said it should be in the back. Out of the way.” Granacci didn’t have the heart to tell him what else Leonardo said, that someone should hang a cloth over David’s testicles so they would not drop off in the cold. “No decision was reached today.”

(In the end, the government did what it wanted and put the David outside the main entrance, replacing Judith and Holofernes.)

David (Repiica) outside the Palazzo Signoria

David (replica) outside the Palazzo Signoria

Granacci didn’t want to tell his friend what had happened after that. The group did what artists do when they get together – talk about art. But there was only one work they wanted to discuss, and it wasn’t the David. It was Leonardo’s drawings of the Battle of Anghiari.

Next: The Return to Painting (1)


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