“David”—“Il Gigante”—is much larger than most people imagine, looming 4.8m (16 ft.) on top of a 1.8m (6-ft.) pedestal. He hasn’t faded with time, either, and a 2004 cleaning makes the marble gleam as if it were opening day, 1504. Viewing the statue is a pleasure in the bright and spacious room custom-designed for him after the icon was moved to the Accademia in 1873, following 300 years of pigeons perched on his head in Piazza della Signoria. Replicas now take the abuse there, and at Piazzale Michelangiolo. The spot high on one flank of the Duomo, for which he was originally commissioned, stands empty.
But the Accademia is not only about “David”; you will be delighted to discover he is surrounded by an entire museum stuffed with other notable Renaissance works. Michelangelo’s unfinished “Prisoners” ★★ statues are a contrast to “David,” with the rough forms struggling to free themselves from the raw stone. They also provide a unique glimpse into how Michelangelo worked a piece of stone; he famously said that he tried to free the sculpture within from the block, and you can see this quite clearly here. Rooms showcase paintings by Perugino, Filippino Lippi, Giotto, Giovanna da Milano, Andrea Orcagna, and others.
Be sure also to visit the back room leading to the Academy part of the Accademia, where you’ll see a warehouse of old replica plaster casts ★, the work of years of students. It’s almost as if a Roman assembly line has just stopped for lunch. The best of them were made by Lorenzo Bartolini in the 1800s.