Michelangelo's David represents the Renaissance era's ideal male physique, but age is catching up with the iconic sculpture, which is at risk of collapse due to its weakening base, according to an Italian study released this week.
Though eternally youthful in appearance, the iconic marble nude is now more than 500 years old and has micro fractures in its lower leg sections — first noticed in the mid-19th century and thoroughly examined during rare cleaning and restoration sessions in recent years.
Researchers from the Italian National Research Council's geoscience division and the University of Florence conducted a stability analysis of the tiny fractures in David's lower leg sections. Part of the study involved creating plaster models of the statue's ankles and carved tree stump section, placing them in a centrifuge and exposing them to strong forces mimicking gravity.
In a report published Wednesday, the experts found that the tiny cracks are threatening to topple the entire 5.17 metre high masterpiece, which has been displayed at Florence's Galleria dell'Accademia since in 1873.
Vibrations — including from the millions of tourists who visit David each year, from nearby trains, everyday traffic and roadwork around the centrally located gallery and from the mild earthquakes that occasionally strike the region — are thought to have damaged the statue over time.
That David (which weighs more than 5 tonnes) leaned at an angle for more than a century and was exposed to the elements in Florence's Piazza della Signoria for more than 350 years before being moved indoors doesn't help its stability, nor the fact that Michelangelo used a lesser quality marble to sculpt him.
David also suffered damage during a 16th century riot and had a toe smashed off by a protesting artist in 1991.
Past attempts to plaster over fractures and fissures have failed.
For years, experts have urged authorities to move David to a larger, specially designed facility further away from the city centre and reinforced against earthquakes and vibrations.