Italy’s Florence fights to protect dignity of Michelangelo's David

19:08, March 29

Michelangelo's David has been a prominent figure in Italian culture since the sculpture's completion in 1504. But in the current era of fast money, curators worry that the marble statue's religious and political significance is being diminished by thousands of refrigerator magnets and other souvenirs sold throughout Florence that focus attention on David's genitals, AP reports.

Galleria dell'Accademia director Cecilia Hallberg has positioned herself as a defender of David since her arrival at the museum in 2015, criticizing those who profit from his image, often in ways she considers "demeaning."

At Hallberg's direction, Florence prosecutors have launched a series of legal cases citing Italy's landmark cultural heritage code, which protects artistic treasures from disparaging and unauthorized commercial use. The Academy has received hundreds of thousands of euros in damages since 2017, Hallberg said.

Lawsuits followed to protect masterpieces in other museums, including Leonardo Da Vinci's Vitruvian Man, Donatello's David, and Botticelli's Birth of Venus.

More broadly, these decisions raise questions about whether institutions should be arbiters of taste and the extent to which freedom of expression is limited.

“This raises not only legal questions, but also philosophical questions. What does cultural heritage mean? How much do you want to give institutions power over ideas and images that are in the public domain?” said New York art market lawyer Thomas S. Danziger.

Italy's cultural code is unusual in its scope: it essentially grants the copyright of a work in perpetuity to the museum or institution that owns it.

The court cases are debating whether the Italian law violates a 2019 European Union directive that states that any work of art no longer protected by copyright enters the public domain, meaning that "everyone should have the right to make, use and share copies this work."

Hallberg won her first case against ticket scalpers who used David's image to sell admission tickets at a premium to the Academy's doors. She took aim also at GQ Italia for superimposing a model's face onto David's body, as well as luxury fashion brand Longchamp's edgy Florentine version of the Le Pliage bag, featuring David's more intimate details.

Longchamp said the image is "not without irony," and the bag is "an opportunity to express with amusing ease the creative force that has always animated this wonderful city."

No matter how many lawsuits Hallberg has filed—she won't say how many, the spreading of David's images continues. “I am sorry that there is so much ignorance and so little respect in using a work that has been praised for centuries for its beauty, for its purity, for its meanings, its symbols, to create goods in poor taste,” she said.


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