There are few better ways to piss off Italians than to insult their cultural heritage. Which is what a American small arms manufacturer named ArmaLite has done, with an ad that shows Michelangelo’s famous “David” (1501–04) sculpture toting a rifle instead of his traditional sling. (Online news site Il Post points out that the David image is one of a pair: the other shows a rifle hanging on the wall of a museum, cordoned off behind a velvet rope, hanging between Grant Wood’s “American Gothic” and Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa.) Although the AR-50A1 rifle, which costs $3,359, looks comically large and ineffective in David’s hands, Italian officials are up in arms after the advertisement ran in l’Espresso magazine last Friday.
“The advertisement of an armed David offends and violates the law,” tweeted Italy’s culture minister, Dario Franceschini. “We will act against the American company that must immediately end the campaign.” Angel Tartuferi, the director of the Accademia, the museum where “David” is housed, also weighed in, according to La Repubblica:
The law says that the aesthetic value of the work cannot be altered. In this case we are faced with an act that is not only in bad taste but is completely illegal.
The law they’re referring to is the copyright of the image, which is owned by the Italian state via the Accademia and mandates that users obtain permission and pay a fee. ArmaLite did neither. Then again, it may be just as well that they didn’t bother, since permission hinges on the image use being “considered appropriate and respectful of the object’s ‘cultural dignity,'” says La Reppublica.