Michelangelo’s statue of David has been standing proud for over 500 years. However, even this famed masterpiece is at the mercy of the elements and old age.
Scientists and art historians are becoming increasingly concerned the 5.2-meter (17-foot) statue in Florence is at risk of collapsing during Italy’s next earthquake, The Times reports. As is often the way in old age, the problem is David’s ankles, which are displaying microscopic fractures, particularly at the base of the right leg.
Worries about these cracks are nothing new. Art admirers noted them in the 19th century, and more recently scientists tried mapping out the fractures. In 2014, Italian geoscientists released a study that attempted to understand the fractures by creating 10-centimeter-tall (3.9 inches) miniature David sculptures and subjecting them to earthquake-like stress in a centrifuge. They found the models could snap at the ankles and easily topple if a quake moved the statue more than 15 degrees.
These fears have recently been heightened following the August and October 2016 earthquakes that rumbled through central-northern Italy. Along with the tragic loss of over 300 lives, Italy’s rich supply of churches, monuments, and museums also took a battering.
“In the light of the earthquakes in central Italy and the fact we cannot rule out their extension towards the north, the problem of the seismic protection of Michelangelo's David has become extremely urgent,” Alessandro Martelli, a geoscientist who has studied the statue, told The Times.
For several years, the Italian government has said they will give €200,000 ($211,000) to David’s home at the Galleria dell'Accademia to address the problem. However, it is yet to receive the funds.
"Unfortunately all our work has been, at least until now, completely in vain, perhaps because people can't comprehend that risks for a work like this can't be measured against the short span of our human lives," Martelli added.
If and when they see the money, the scientists working with the museum do have a solution. They hope to install a “anti-seismic” layer beneath the statue’s plinth that could help the statue move gracefully with the wobbles of the earthquake. In theory, this could be done without too much invasive damage to the statue.
Another team hopes to further analyze the structure of Galleria dell'Accademia and see how it would fare against a heavy earthquake.
Whether Michelangelo’s statue will receive this work before the next earthquake hits is anybody's guess.