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Michelangelo’s ‘David,’ in part, costs Florida school principal her job

Parents objected to the work’s nudity, though some say the Florentine Renaissance artist’s masterpiece has antisemitic overtones.

Michaelangelo’s “David” sculpture in Italy. Photo by Menachem Wecker.
Michaelangelo’s “David” sculpture in Italy. Photo by Menachem Wecker.

The principal of a Florida public charter school was given the choice to quit or be fired after a teacher showed an image of Michelangelo’s nude sculpture “David” to a group of sixth-graders. Hope Carrasquilla, of Tallahassee Classical School—a Hillsdale College affiliate—opted to do the former.

Parents reportedly complained that they had not been notified ahead of time that their children would see a photograph of the nude Renaissance sculpture (1501-04) the world-renowned artist created for the Palazzo dei Priori in Florence, Italy. A copy now stands in that location, today called Palazzo Vecchio, and the sculpture is installed about half a mile away at the Galleria dell’Accademia.

One parent reportedly called the sculpture “pornographic,” but school-board officials explained that the issue was that parents were not notified, not that the sculpture is unclothed. The board also said this was one of several issues with the head of school.

The sculpture’s nudity has also generated controversy for Michelangelo’s depiction of the biblical king as uncircumcised. If the description of the scene leading up to David’s battle with Goliath in 1 Samuel 17:26 is any indication, the Jewish king would have been greatly displeased with that decision.

When David heard the Philistine giant taunt the Jews, he asked petrified Jewish soldiers: “Who is this uncircumcised Philistine, who dares mock the living God’s army?”

Some have seen Michelangelo’s work as a deliberate erasure of David’s Jewishness. But the sculpture was arguably much more about politics than religion. The biblical king was seen as a civic symbol of Florence, which believed itself to be a just underdog facing the giants of Rome and Venice.

“Evidently, it was admired by the Jews of Florence, no doubt as much proud that the greatest king of Israel was seen by the Florentines as their hero, as by the spectacle that he had been transformed into a goy; he was unmistakably depicted as uncircumcised,” Jewish art critic Richard McBee has written.

Likely, he added, Michelangelo “had little or no respect or interest in the meaning of the sign of the covenant each male Jew proudly accepts.”

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