Journalists and guests take in the David-Apollo by Michelangelo at the National Gallery of Art. The statue’s visit is part of the museum’s Year of Italian Culture. (Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)

The National Gallery of Art kicked off its Year of Italian Culture by unveiling Michelangelo’s David-Apollo on Wednesday. The statue is on loan from the Museo Nazionale del Bargello in Florence and will remain at the NGA until March 3.

At the unveiling ceremony in the West Garden Court at the gallery, NGA Director Earl A. Powell III said, “The influence of Italy . . . is abundant at the National Gallery of Art,” noting that “our collection of Italian art is one of the world’s finest.”

“The decision to launch 2013, the Year of Italian Culture, with this exhibit was easy, even natural,” he went on, pointing out that this marks the David-Apollo’s second appearance in the United States. The marble sculpture, carved but never quite completed in 1530, was installed at the NGA during President Harry S. Truman’s inaugural reception in 1949, a loan from Italy as a sign of gratitude for America’s postwar aid.

The statue isn’t named for its identity; it’s named for an identity crisis. Is the sculpture a depiction of David, he of Goliath-killing fame, with the head of his foe beneath his foot? Or is it a rendering of the god Apollo, stretching to that almost unreachable spot between his shoulder blades to pull an arrow from his quiver?

The statue is on loan from the Museo Nazionale del Bargello in Florence and will remain at the National Gallery of Art until March 3. (Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)

Alison Luchs, the NGA’s curator of early European sculpture, said both Michelangelo and his patron, Baccio Valori (then the interim governor of Florence), “kept us guessing” about the answer. She was certain, however, that the “nearly finished work” is “a beautiful, important and mysterious statue.”

In 1530, Michelangelo carved the marble sculpture but never quite completed it. (Associated Press)