If it was meant to be David, it was a decidedly different take on the subject from the artist’s earlier, 1501-04 foray, now perhaps the most famous statue in the world. David was a long-standing and robust theme for Florentine artists, who tended to avoid the biblical king’s later, rather checkered career, rich in adultery, disappointingly immoral children and other sordid domestic details. The youthful David, however, was convenient civic propaganda, humble but blessed in war, a defier of odds and a symbol of friendship. Since about 1330, the youthful David had emerged as a uniquely Florentine artistic obsession, with major sculptures from Donatello, Verrocchio (whose sweetly adolescent bronze David visited the National Gallery in 2003) and, of course, Michelangelo.
Unlike the artist’s earlier David, a towering 17-foot statue that had been adopted as Florence’s avatar in stone, the David-Apollo isn’t pensively looking to battle or bristling with determination, but staring downward with what seem to be closed eyes. Even the unfinished round form under his gently bent right leg might be simply a result of the artist’s habit of “finding” the ground by sculpting the leg downwards to the foot, a technique that allowed him flexibility and rendered a more natural-appearing stance. All of this, and especially the figure’s sensuality, convinced the art historian Kenneth Clark that even if aspects of David had crept into the finishing the statue, “Apollo it remains, for the sleepy sensuous movement of the body cannot be interpreted as the action of the young hero.”