Michelangelo’s “David” (1501–1504) has made quite the stir this year: A Florida principal was forced to resign after parents complained that an art teacher had shown the Renaissance sculpture to her sixth-grade students, and an Italian restaurant had to partially conceal the statue’s genitalia in a Scottish subway advertisement. Now, “David” is once again in the headlines after Italy’s Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities and Tourism won a lawsuit against Edizioni Condé Nast, which published a magazine cover with a model posing as the sculpture three years ago.
The publisher used the Renaissance sculpture’s likeness for the August 2020 edition of GQ Italia, superimposing a photograph of model Pietro Boselli on top of “David” and ultimately creating the image of a chiseled modern-day man posing as the 16th-century statue. Edizioni Condé Nast did not pay a usage fee to the Galleria dell’Accademia, which has exhibited the statue since 1873. The Court of Florence ruled in favor of the Italian Culture Ministry on May 15, making the damning statement that the magazine had “insidiously and maliciously” juxtaposed the images of Boselli and David,” thereby “debasing, obfuscating, mortifying, and humiliating the high symbolic and identity value of the work of art.”
Now, Edizioni Condé Nast will need to pay the Galleria dell’Accademia the €20,000 (~$21,445) licensing fee and a €30,000 (~$32,170) fine for the way in which it altered the image.
In a statement shared with Hyperallergic, Galleria dell’Accademia Director Cecilie Hollberg called the ruling “another great achievement.”
“A principle has now been affirmed that goes beyond the individual case,” Hollberg said.
Elsewhere in Florence, the Uffizi Gallery sued fashion designer Jean Paul Gaultier last year for the company’s use of Sandro Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus” (1482–1485). Earlier this spring, an Italian court ruled in favor of another museum, the Gallerie dell’Accademia in Venice, in its case against a German toy manufacturer. The company used Leonardo da Vinci’s “Vitruvian Man” (c. 1490) on a puzzle.
“David,” “Birth of Venus,” and “Vitruvian Man” are all in the public domain. The museums’ claims diverge from standard European Union law and hinge on a section of the Italian constitution that protects images of cultural heritage. The clause “guarantees the right to personal identity, understood as the right not to see one’s intellectual, political, social, religious, ideological or professional heritage altered or distorted” and protects “the right to the collective identity of citizens who identify as belonging to that same nation, also by virtue of the artistic and cultural heritage which is part of the memory of the national community.”