The presentation of the David-Apollo, a marble statue by Michelangelo lent to the National Gallery of Art by the Museo Nazionale del Bargello in Florence, opens the nationwide celebration 2013?The Year of Italian Culture. The graceful figure of a youth in a twisting pose is mysterious in both mood and subject; the elements that would confirm an identity as either the biblical giant-killer David or the pagan sun-god Apollo were never completed. With flesh areas covered by a fine network of chisel marks, the statue is a fascinating example of the non-finito, the unfinished condition that allows viewers to study the sculptural process in many works by Michelangelo. This statue was displayed at the Gallery once before, in 1949, to celebrate Italian-American friendship at the time of President Harry Truman's inauguration. Organization: Under the auspices of the President of the Italian Republic, the presentation of Michelangelo's David-Apollo inaugurates 2013--The Year of Italian Culture, organized by The Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Embassy of Italy in Washington, in collaboration with the Ministero per i Beni e le Attività Culturali and with the support of the Corporate Ambassadors Intesa Sanpaolo and Eni. The presentation of Michelangelo's David-Apollo has been organized by the National Gallery of Art, Washington, The Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Embassy of Italy in Washington, the Soprintendenza Speciale per il Patrimonio Storico, Artistico ed Etnoantropologico e per il Polo Museale della città di Firenze, and the Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence.

Occasional considerations of a piece of art on view in town.

Ahh… Michelangelo. After living in Rome and spending days seated in San Pietro in Vincoli drawing Michelangelo’s Moses, it is invigorating to be able to freely walk into a place and see another Michelangelo marble. (Then again, that’s the joy of the National Gallery and the Smithsonian: freely walking in.) David-Apollo has been in town since December, and he’s worth paying a visit.

First, let’s ignore the description of this figure as an Apollo. Yeah, Giorgio Vasari might have written it, but this is from a guy whose first sentence on Michelangelo is about as long as everything he wrote about all three Bellinis in his book Lives of the Most Excellent Italian Painters, Sculptors, and Architects. During the Renaissance, it wasn’t uncommon for sculptors to carve youthful Apollos. But if he is reaching for an arrow from a quiver, that quiver must be stitched to his back. There isn’t a shoulder strap to be found.

Then also consider that his foot rests on a curved mass. It is a head beneath his foot: just a hint of a nose and eye socket, but it is still a head. And David’s hand, locked against his thigh: why would it angle so if it weren’t clutching something?

Artists, like general audiences, enjoy finished pieces. And with Michelangelo, the joy of his finished pieces is knowing the only thing his chisel lacked was the breath of God; otherwise, they would be walking among us. The real pleasure of David-Apollo is what the rough work tells us. For students 500 years later, looking at the rough forms of the unfinished work tells us something about technique, process, and the gradual unveiling of information.

David-Apollo is on view at the National Gallery of Art to March 3.