Michelangelo's David and Parental Rights in Education

The David

Between the 14th and 17th century, Italian thinkers wanted to steer clear from the “barbarous, unenlightened Middle Ages and declared a new age of rebirth, thus forming the Italian Renaissance. During this time, Italian scholars gravitated toward the idea of Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome’s admiration of physical beauty. This philosophical thinking is known as humanism, which is centered on the “importance to human rather than divine or supernatural matters.” At the same time, Renaissance artists would apply the same humanistic principles to their artworks, and one of the greatest examples is Michelangelo’s famous statue, David.

 

Michelangelo’s David was created between 1501 and 1504, and originally commissioned to be displayed 80 meters off the ground of the Cathedral of Florence by the Opera del Duomo. It was made out of a 14 ft marble statue depicting David, a biblical hero who saved the Israelites from Goliath, in complete nudity. Prior to Michelangelo, artists such as Donatello and Ghiberti portrayed David triumphantly standing over Goliath’s severed head. However, Michelangelo decided to take a different approach to David. Instead of sticking to traditional depictions, he portrayed David before the battle, deep in concentration. The statue is standing in a classical pose called contrapposto, which describes a figure standing with most of its weight on one leg while letting the arms fall in opposite directions to create a slight curve in the torso.

 

After Michelangelo unveiled the marble statue to only a select few, all who initially witnessed it agreed that the statue was “far too perfect to be placed up high in the cathedral.” It was later decided by a committee, which included other artists, that the statue would be relocated in the Piazza della Signoria for public eyes to witness. Michelangelo’s depiction of a biblical hero became a symbol of liberty and freedom, “showing Florence’s readiness to defend itself.”

The David
The David face close-up

Despite its history, beauty, and symbolism, David has faced some controversy recently. Tallahassee Classical School principal Hope Carrasquilla was forced to resign after a parent complained about a teacher showing students a photo of Michelangelo’s David, as well as The Creation of Adam, and Botticelli’s Birth of Venus to 6th graders during an art history lesson. The complaints indicated that the images were seen as pornographic and unsuitable for the school to teach.

 

“It saddens me that my time here had to end this way,” Carrasquilla told the Tallahassee Democrat after only nine months in her position. However, according to the School Board Chair Barney Bishop III, the forced resignation is due to “a number of other reasons” such as the alleged teacher turnovers and poor communication by Carrasquilla. Bishop added that the school has a protocol that requires administration to notify parents about lesson plans that are considered being controversial prior to being taught to students.

Carrasquilla told NPR, “I made an assumption that the letter went out, and I didn’t follow up on it…It is my responsibility to make sure these things happen, but we did not have to send out a letter regarding Renaissance art.”

This policy stems from a recent 2022 bill passed by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, known as the Parental Rights in Education bill. The main goal of the bill was to emphasize parent’s voices about their children’s education. Additionally, House Republicans recently passed legislation that “requires schools to notify parents that they have the right to review the curriculum and school budget, inspect books and other library materials.”

 

At first glance, most people would probably feel that the bill seems like a perfectly reasonable safeguard. What kind of parent wouldn’t like to have a say in what the schools teach their children? However, what happened at Tallahassee Classical School begs the question of if it could be a slippery slope. The statue of David has been regarded as one of the most famous works of art for hundreds of years, yet all of a sudden it’s too graphic. What does this mean for the future of not only art history but education as a whole?


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