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Earthquake-Proofing Michelangelo’s Statue of David

(Image courtesy of Clayton Tang via Wikimedia Commons)
Michelangelo’s statue of David in Florence (image via Clayton Tang/Wikimedia)

After more than 250 small earthquakes shook Italy last week, the Italian Ministry of Culture announced it will spend €200,000 (~$245,000) on an anti-seismic base to secure Michelangelo’s statue of David, the Agence France-Presse reported. The 17-foot marble figure is housed in Florence at the Accademia Gallery.

The news follows a study released last spring that showed the sculpture was in great danger, with several micro-fractures observed in its ankles and base. Tourist crowds and nearby traffic weren’t helping. At the time, authorities announced they would stabilize the work with a new base, but funding for the project wasn’t immediately available.

Though the earthquakes caused little damage (the two strongest shocks measured 3.8 and 4.1 on the Richter scale), they were an ample wake-up call. “A masterpiece like ‘David’ must not be left to any risk,” Culture Minister Dario Franceschini said.

The new plinth will increase the statue’s chances of surviving in an earthquake by diffusing the ground’s movement. The shock-absorbing technology was first pioneered by the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, which sits on a precarious fault line, and it has since been used around the world.

It’s great to see cultural institutions waking up to an environmental threat that has been elsewhere answered by engineers and architects. As Jerry Podany, senior conservator of antiquities at the Getty, wrote in 2010, “All the work of expensive and often energy wasteful systems that struggle to maintain humidity and temperature levels within astonishingly narrow ranges, and all of the restorer’s work to complete painstaking treatments meant to both preserve and present artefacts at their greatest visual advantage, can be lost in the few seconds most earthquakes last, because of lack of precautions.”

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