The Accademia delle Belle Arti is in the Via Ricasoli, that street which seen from the top of the Campanile is the straightest thing in Florence, running like a ruled line from the Duomo to the valley of the Mugnone. Upstairs are modern painters: but upstairs I have never been. It is the ground-floor rooms that are so memorable, containing as they do a small but very choice collection of pictures illustrating the growth of Italian art, with particular emphasis on Florentine art; the best assemblage of the work of Fra Angelico that exists; and a large gallery given up to Michelangelo’s sculpture: originals and casts. The principal magnets that draw people here, no doubt, are the Fra Angelicos and Botticelli’s “Primavera”; but in five at least of the rooms there is not an uninteresting picture, while the collection is so small that one can study it without fatigue—no little matter after the crowded Uffizi and Pitti.
It is a simple matter to choose in such a book as this the best place in which to tell something of the life-story of, say, Giotto and Brunelleschi and the della Robbias; for at a certain point their genius is found concentrated—Donatello’s and the della Robbias’ in the Bargello and those others at the Duomo and Campanile. But with Michelangelo it is different, he is so distributed over the city—his gigantic David here, the Medici tombs at S. Lorenzo, his fortifications at S. Miniato, his tomb at S. Croce, while there remains his house as a natural focus of all his activities. I have, however, chosen the Medici chapel as the spot best suited for his biography, and therefore will here dwell only on the originals that are preserved about the David. The David himself, superb and confident, is the first thing you see in entering the doors of the gallery. He stands at the end, white and glorious, with his eyes steadfastly measuring his antagonist and calculating upon what will be his next move if the sling misdirects the stone. Of the objection to the statue as being not representative of the Biblical figure I have said something in the chapter on the Bargello, where several Davids come under review. Yet, after all that can be said against its dramatic fitness, the statue remains an impressive and majestic yet strangely human thing. There it is—a sign of what a little Italian sculptor with a broken nose could fashion with his mallet and chisel from a mass of marble four hundred and more years ago.
Its history is curious. In 1501, when Michelangelo was twenty-six and had just returned to Florence from Rome with a great reputation as a sculptor, the joint authorities of the cathedral and the Arte della Lana offered him a huge block of marble that had been in their possession for thirty-five years, having been worked upon clumsily by a sculptor named Baccellino and then set aside. Michelangelo was told that if he accepted it he must carve from it a David and have it done in two years. He began in September,