In 1857 Leopold II, the Grand Duke of Tuscany, presented Queen Victoria with a life-size plaster cast of Michelangelo's statue of David.
Queen Victoria immediately gave the statue to the fledgling Victoria and Albert Museum. However, when she later visited the museum to see her gift, it is said that she was shocked by its nudity. A large, detachable, plaster fig leaf was promptly cast, which was hung on two strategically-placed hooks during royal visits to the museum "to spare the blushes of visiting female dignitaries."
The earliest photographs of Michelangelo's statue, which until 1873 stood outside the entrance to the Palazzo Vecchio, show David sporting a fig leaf. The fig leaf remained in place after the statue had been moved to the Galleria dell'Accademia. It was finally removed circa 1890.
When the so-called 'Third David' was carved in 1910 a debate raged as to whether it, too, should sport a fig leaf. It was argued that a garland of twenty-eight gilded copper leaves had originally protected the modesty of Michelangelo's own statue. However, it should be stated that this had not been the intention of the artist himself.
It was eventually decided that nothing would be added to the 'Third David' (the work of Luigi Arrighetti and his team) and the statue was duly placed outside the Palazzo Vecchio in the exact spot where the original work had once stood.
Copyright © David Lown 2001-2017. All rights reserved.