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The Universal Exhibition offers a new vision of Michelangelo’s “David”: just his head

DUBAI — Veronika Poslusna looked, face to face, into the eyes of Michelangelo’s “David”, struggling to find his words.

“I have to take my time to really feel it,” she said. A moment later, the 30-year-old Czech tourist said only one word: “Wow”.

The replica of Michelangelo’s nude sculpture, reproduced using one of the largest 3D printers in the world, is causing a stir at the World’s Fair in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

Head shot

What is striking about this version is that David’s head is on a different floor from his body. The torso, genitals, and legs of the nearly 17-foot-tall figure, while connected to the head, stand in the boardroom below.

Traditionalists sniff at the forked view with disapproval, saying the statue must be seen in its entirety.

“The decision to display the copy of the David from above is utterly ridiculous,” said Paul Barolsky, a retired art professor at the University of Virginia who has studied the history of sculpture. “It has nothing to do with how the statue was originally intended to be seen… Why not show the work upside down? “

Yet many visitors to the Italy pavilion at the exhibition seem in awe of their intimate and personal moment with the famous biblical hero.

Completed in 1504, the statue of David represents the eponymous hero armed and ready to fight Goliath with his slingshot and stone. When authorities in Florence, Italy first unveiled it, viewers were expected to look down from below, showcasing the work’s muscular physique and larger-than-life stature.

The point of view was intentional, according to an academic theory. The statue was placed outside Palazzo Vecchio, Florence’s seat of government, to ward off the powerful Medici family, who once ruled the city.

David’s eyes were looking south, toward Rome, where the Medici were plotting a return, and the statue’s presence was a metaphor for Florence as the underdog against foreigners, according to the theory.

Davide Rampello, artistic director of the Italy pavilion in Dubai, said he wanted people to see David face to face. The replica of the head emerges from the ground floor into a room above, which is decorated with a golden mosaic on the walls and a starry ceiling. Mr. Rampello calls it the theater of memory.

The Universal Exhibition offers a new vision of Michelangelo’s “David”: just his head

Visitors viewing the 3-D replica of Michelangelo’s ‘David’ at the Dubai World’s Fair.


Kamran Jebreili / Associated press

The exhibit is meant to show how modern society is losing memory due to the habit of recording experiences digitally, Mr. Rampello said. David at the center is a symbol of why people should remember the story, he said, “because he is the youngster who conquered violence, arrogance, tyranny … C ‘that’s why David looks his viewers in the eye. “

The deep sight is lost for many visitors. “I was wondering: what does this mean? Said Vanda Hovhannessian, UAE resident and executive coach.

“The whole statue would be better,” said Or Ovadia, a 25-year-old Israeli and first-time visitor to Dubai.

Making the replica of the 16th-century marble statue took 40 hours of digitally scanning the original artwork in Florence, organizers said. The designers then made a digital three-dimensional model and created the statue from recycled plastic filaments on the giant 3D printer.

The figurine was a collaboration of the Museum of the Galleria dell’Accademia, seat of the original, of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering of the University of Florence and of the Italian Ministry of Culture. Replicas can also be found outside Palazzo Vecchio, the statue’s original location, and atop a hill in Piazzale Michelangelo, both in Florence.

Loud art critic and politician Vittorio Sgarbi is not happy with the split-level exhibition in Dubai. “The Italian state is humiliated and Italian art mortified,” he tweeted. “Really disgusting.”

The Universal Exhibition offers a new vision of Michelangelo’s “David”: just his head

The 3D copy of Michelangelo’s “David” in a laboratory in Florence, Italy this year.


claudio giovannini / Shutterstock

The Universal Exhibition offers a new vision of Michelangelo’s “David”: just his head

The ‘David’ replica in Florence, Italy, ahead of his trip to the Dubai World’s Fair.


carlo bressan / Agence France-Presse / Getty Images

Mr Sgarbi said the separate floors censored David’s manhood, and he claimed it was done to appease sensitivities in the United Arab Emirates, where laws are based on Islamic restrictions and nude images are generally seen. as a taboo.

“The government of the United Arab Emirates has never mentioned, even remotely, any censorship obligation,” Rampello said. A spokesperson for Dubai Expo 2020 (it was delayed for a year due to the pandemic) referred to a statement by the Italian pavilion denying censorship.

Men and women attended the unveiling of the statue in April, as well as the pavilion opening this month. The entire body of the statue can be seen from the balcony surrounding David’s head. The conference room below is open to dignitaries and special events.

The Italian pavilion, based on the theme “Beauty Connects People”, is one of nearly 200 at Expo 2020, the world’s premier exhibition in the Middle East. The United Arab Emirates had hoped to attract up to 25 million visitors and demonstrate the country’s progress 50 years after its founding.

Rose Balston, Dubai-based art historian and founding director of arts experience firm Artscapes UK, said the introspective Michelangelo would have been “quite pleased with this up-to-date digital twin” of his work.

“We have the rare opportunity to look David in the eye as he assesses Goliath, a privilege that only deepens our understanding of Michelangelo’s astonishing work,” she said.

64-year-old New Yorker Gale Nishikawa agreed.

“You see the emotion,” she said, wearing a face mask. “We went 18 months without seeing people’s faces, so it’s kind of nice to get involved.”

Write to Rory Jones at and Giovanni Legorano at

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