Suddenly this Italian icon looks different

Editor’s note: Subscribe to nine free parts of CNN Travel Open the newsletter for Italy For insider information on Italy’s best-loved destinations and lesser-known regions to plan your ultimate trip. Plus, we’ll get you in the mood before you go for movie suggestions, reading lists, and recipes from Stanley Tucci.


For more than 500 years, Michelangelo’s sculpture of David in Florence has remained unchanged, a marble symbol of masculinity and one of the most famous works of art in the world.

But with Italy emerging from the pandemic, David has taken on a whole new look.

A new lighting system has revolutionized the look of the iconic statue, with small details appearing for the first time in its history.

“A few days ago, I noticed muscles on the body that I hadn’t seen before,” says Lucia Lazic, a guide who visits the Academia Gallery most days.

David Michelangelo at the Academy Gallery.

Emilio Friel / NourPhoto / Getty Images / Guido Cosi

I said: What on earth? How have I not seen this before? The lighting is much better on David. ”

The lighting “changed the visual perception of artwork,” Academy director Cecily Holberg said in a statement, telling CNN that David’s marble appears “whiter” and the details are “more vivid.”

The lighting – which was completed in September as part of works revealed this week – aims to bring “the dynamism of sunlight” to the Tribuna room where the statue is placed under a vaulted skylight.

LED spotlights were installed in a circle above the statue, allowing them to “completely envelop David and leave the rest of the space in the background.”

The color of the light changes imperceptibly during the day, while the lights vary in warmth, allowing visitors to gain a new perspective with each step around the statue.

You can now see Michelangelo's chisel marks on Beta Ballestrina and the prisoners.

David’s new look is part of a broader renovation of the museum, which was the second most visited Italy in 2019.

The Galleria dei Brigione, or “Paragonist’s Corridor”—named after Michelangelo’s four semi-completed sculptures of prisoners of war, which shares the space with two of his other works—the lighting has also been switched over, with several lights directing on each sculpture.

“It used to be that the prisoners looked yellow, and David was white. Now they’re the same color,” Holberg told CNN.

“Now you can see every chisel mark on it.”

The new lighting system, which “returns the right balance between chiaroscuro and color to the works”, is also energy efficient. Holberg says the fair should use about 80% less electricity compared to previous years.

It’s not just the headlines that look different. Many of the other rooms in the gallery with their beige walls were previously painted in more colors than those in the paintings.

The Sala del Colosso, the first room in the gallery, is now bright blue, while the 13th and 14th century rooms are pale green, chosen to highlight the gold used in most paintings.

Sala Colosso at the Academy Gallery

New lighting everywhere has transformed the paintings from things that tourists used to skip on their way to David, into unmissable things in their own right.

“We never saw them,” said Holberg, a regular visitor, to CNN. “In one of the paintings by Domenico Ghirlandaio, you can now see all the golden dots in [saints’] auras; Before that, beige walls were flattened by gold. Elsewhere, it’s as if you can pluck pearls from a painting – before you can ever see them.

“My job is to give value and visibility to all works. Every work here is a masterpiece, but works die on a beige background – they have to be lifted and supported with color. I want to give them what they deserve.”

The renovation of the museum in Gipsoteca has been completed.

In the past, the lighting was so poor that some paintings were barely visible – like the one next to David. “Before dark, you couldn’t see them – nobody stopped,” Holberg said. On one occasion she saw a guide lighting the torch of their phones on another board in an attempt to display it to visitors.

She said the tourists have already changed their behaviour.

“Now they stop and look. They are not all in front of David as before. I followed the groups, and they crossed the Sala del Colosso and never stopped. Now I see that room full of visitors – it’s redistributing the crowds.”

Lazic, a guide at Elite Italian Experience, agrees: “There are more people stopping by at the Sala del Colosso.”

The renovations, which began just before the pandemic and launched this year, have completed the renovation of Gypsoteca. The gypsum cast exhibition was another place to rush. That is if it was open – no windows or open air conditioners, it was closing at midday during the summer.

But now with air conditioning, powder blue walls, and a new design of 414 plaster casts—most of them done by sculptor Lorenzo Bartolini, whose works are in the Louvre, Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art—it’s an incredible setting.

Holberg says locals are beginning to appreciate the museum, too. “It used to be a place for tourists, but the Florentines are rediscovering it. We got the last of the resisters in a series of concerts.”

Dario Franceschini, Italy’s Minister of Culture, described the reopening of Gypsoteca as “an important step…in achieving [the Accademia] in the twenty-first century.”

“Works throughout the building have allowed for important innovations in systems, transforming a museum designed in the late 19th century into a modern setting without deforming it,” he added.

Leave a Comment