Michelangelo’s David is one of the most famous sculptures in history and an iconic representation of the Renaissance. But recently, it’s become the center of controversy at a Florida charter school. An image of the marble statue was shown to sixth-grade students during a required lesson on Renaissance art at the Classical School in Tallahassee. Subsequently, several parents complained that they hadn’t been made aware that the image would be shown in class. One parent even stated that the famous piece of art was “pornographic.” Now the school’s principal, Hope Carrasquilla, has been forced to resign.
The news has made headlines across the United States and in Italy. The David sculpture is on display at Florence’s Galleria dell’Accademia and the city’s mayor Dario Nardella has extended an invitation for the school’s former principal to the city to view the artwork. He also made his views on the parents’ complaints clear: “To confuse art with pornography is simply ridiculous.”
Cecilie Hollberg, director of the Galleria dell’Accademia, wholeheartedly agrees. “To think that David could be pornographic means truly not understanding the contents of the Bible, not understanding Western culture and not understanding Renaissance art,” she told Fortune
According to the school, the image of David, as well as Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus and Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam—both of which feature nudity—are shown every year during the lesson. Typically, a letter is sent out to parents in advance so that anyone who feels that the imagery is inappropriate can opt out of the lesson. Due to what Carrasquilla classified as “a series of miscommunications” that letter was not sent out this year. And that’s where the problem arose.
The former principal told Huffington Post that one parent was “point-blank upset” and “felt her child should not be viewing those pieces.” Carrasquilla, who has been principal for less than a year, was given the option to either resign or be let go from her position. While the educator doesn’t deny that there were preexisting issues between her and the board, she feels that the art history lesson played a large role in her being forced out.
School board chair Barney Bishop told press outlets that the issue wasn’t with David itself, noting that the image had been shown in previous years. For the board, the issue lay with the fact that the procedures to inform parents weren’t followed. “We aren’t trying to ban the picture,” he said. “We think it’s beautiful, but we are going to make sure the concept of parental rights is supreme in Florida and at our charter school.”
The controversy comes at a time when Florida governor Ron DeSantis, who may run for President in 2024, has been signing several Republican-backed bills to shape K-12 education in the state. This includes the contentious Parental Rights’ in Education Bill. The bill, which was called the “Don’t Say Gay” bill by opponents, restricts the inclusion of a curriculum that discusses sexual orientation or gender identity in any way that is “not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate.” Critics have blasted the policy for marginalizing LGBTQ children.
For acclaimed travel writer Rick Steves, the David controversy appears to be a sad extension of DeSantis’ ideology. “Presumed Republican presidential candidate Ron DeSantis’s stance against ‘woke ideology’ in public schools is just the latest example of the American insistence on seeing great art and the human body as somehow dirty,” he tweeted. “While Europeans have long since moved on, we Americans seem to be taking our cues from the Inquisition.”
A Florida principal was forced to resign after parents complained that a photo of Michelangelo’s David statue was inappropriate material for a sixth-grade art history lesson.
The mayor of Florence, Italy—home of the David—has since extended an invitation for the principal to come and be celebrated by the city.
Inviterò personalmente l’insegnante a Firenze per darle un riconoscimento a nome della città. L’arte è civiltà e chi la insegna merita rispetto.
— Dario Nardella (@DarioNardella) March 25, 2023
Many people have taken issue with this famous piece of art being equated with pornography.
Presumed Republican presidential candidate Ron DeSantis’s stance against “woke ideology” in public schools is just the latest example of the American insistence on seeing great art and the human body as somehow dirty.
— Rick Steves (@RickSteves) March 25, 2023
Took the 10 yr old to Florence this week and now learning we exposed her to “porn” instead of classical art. Does the GQP know what David symbolizes???🤔😒 #David pic.twitter.com/zM37rHtZm9
— AjmeriHoque (@AjmeriHoque) March 24, 2023
Stop trying to shelter kids from masterpieces.
The fact that you are more scared of this than a gun in the hands of a teacher is beyond me. #David pic.twitter.com/TRGgU6QG7d
— sk (@sk81081215) March 25, 2023
I don’t understand how in 2023 they can’t distinguish between what is Art and what is Pornography. Michelangelo’s David is one of the most and famous artworks of the Italian Renaissance: how can you not know it?#Michelangelo #art #David #Florida https://t.co/Fv1xvOVZ3j
— Leventneuf (@Leventneuf_) March 26, 2023
I genuinely can not get over American parents being more worried about a masterpiece, one of the best works of art of all time, being shown to their kids in school, than their kids being shot dead in school. #David pic.twitter.com/Is9KHYvnfr
— Vitt (@Vitt2TsNoC) March 25, 2023
I learned of the David in an art book in school.
When I finally saw him in person, I nearly dropped to my knees, teary-eyed. All my life it was there waiting. It still leaves me gape-mouthed. Who would deprive children of this lifetime of appreciation and anticipation? pic.twitter.com/j9GSxZgVtt
— Becky (@comobecky) March 25, 2023
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