David’s Private Parts Cause A Florida Educator To Step Down
Five hundred years ago, a 26-year-old Italian artist took a six-ton block of marble and after two years converted the slab into one of the most famous statues ever created, a testament to the Biblical battle between David and the giant, Goliath.
The classic Renaissance creation is ruffling “woke” feathers in Florida because it dared to show David, naked in all his glory including, Heavens to Murgatroyd, his winkie.
Michelangelo’s 14-foot tall masterpiece was so perfect that it became a symbol of liberty and freedom. Ironically, a half a millennium later, the nude David, sculpted with genitalia fully exposed, has become the latest target of conservative, right wing, anti-woke, reactionary politics in Florida.
The brouhaha erupted after sixth graders were shown a photo of David, as part of a class on classical art. Parents at the Tallahassee Classical School complained that it was inappropriate to show the photo including one parent who said the sculpture was “pornographic.”
In the end, principal Hope Carrasquilla was fired. Maybe addition of a fig leaf in an appropriate area would have satisfied the right wing opponents and saved Carrasquilla’s job but then that’s not what Michelangelo wanted.
“When all was finished, it cannot be denied that this work has carried off the palm from all other statues, modern or ancient, Greek or Latin; no other artwork is equal to it in any respect, with such just proportion, beauty and excellence did Michelangelo finish it,” said the art historian Giorgio Vasari.
But as far as the people in Tallahassee, Fla., are concerned, Vasari can take his opinions elsewhere. Carrasquilla’s demise is part of a growing, conservative effort to give parents more control over the schools and their children’s education.
Carrasquilla, said parents are usually notified in a letter before they are shown such classical artwork. The letter, however, was not sent and parents were upset, including one who was “point-blank upset” and “felt her child should not be viewing those pieces,” Carrasquilla said.
Carrasquilla had been principal at the Tallahassee Classical charter school for less than a year and was the third principal since the school opened in the fall of 2020. The the school board chair, Barney Bishop, a staunch Republican, gave Carrasquilla the the choice to resign or be fired and she decided to walk.
Bishop said in published reports that he was lobbying for legislation that would give parents even more input in primary education. He said the extended remote teaching during the pandemic gave a clearer picture to parents of their children’s education. Wanting more say in school affairs, some parents chose to send their children to charter schools, like the grades K-12, Tallahassee Classical School.
“Parental rights trump everything else,” Bishop said, adding that parents “didn’t like the woke indoctrination that was going on. We don’t use pronouns, we don’t teach CRT and we don’t ever mention 1619 — those are not appropriate subjects for our kids.”
The 1619 reference by Bishop refers to the “1619 Project,” a popular book on the effects of slavery in the U.S. that gets its title from the year the first enslaved people were brought to America.
The school’s application for charter school status said “Classical education and the culture we seek to cultivate at the school will provide students with an environment that is academically challenging and rigorous and instills a love of learning.”
Tallahassee Classical School has partnered with the Barney Charter School Initiative, an outreach of Hillsdale College, a private, conservative Christian liberal arts college in Hillsdale, Mich. Founded in 1844 by members of the Free Will Baptists, the college’s mission statement says it is a “liberal arts curriculum based on Western heritage as a product of Greco-Roman culture and Christian tradition. The required core curriculum has courses on the Great Books, the U.S. Constitution, biology, chemistry, and physics.”
Since the late 20th century, in order to opt out of the federal Title IX anti-discrimination requirements, Hillsdale has declined governmental financial support. Instead, Hillsdale and Tallahassee Classical School depend entirely on private donations to supplement students’ tuition.
In 2010, Hillsdale began the Barney Charter School Initiative focused on supporting the development of classical charter schools across the country.
Michelangelo based his masterpiece on the story in Book 1 Samuel when David of the Israelis engaged in an epic confrontation with Goliath of the Philistines. Twice a day for 40 days, Goliath came out on the battlefield and challenged the Israelites to send out a champion to decide the outcome in single combat. Only David, a young shepherd, accepted the challenge, and armed with a sling and five stones, he confronted the giant Goliath. David hurled a stone from his sling and hit Goliath in the center of his forehead: Goliath fell on his face to the ground, and David then cut off his head.
Florida is among a growing number of Republican states that have rejected teaching about LGBTQ issues, the effects of enslavement in the U.S. and that have banned many books on the subjects from school libraries. If more schools want to follow Tallahassee Classical School and forbid objectionable artwork, they will have plenty to consider.
For instance, Michelangelo would be the focus of right wing ire for another classic work, “The Last Judgement,” the artist’s depiction of the Second Coming of Christ. Michelangelo worked on the painting from 1536 to 1541 and it was met with immediate controversy from the Counter-Reformation Catholic church.
Religious officials did not like the style with which Michelangelo painted Jesus beardless and in the Classic style of pagan mythology. But most repulsive were the painting’s 300 figures, mostly male and mostly nude. In a move called a fig-leaf campaign, bits of fabric and flora were later painted over the genitalia, some of which were later removed as part of a 20th century restoration.
Fifteenth century Dutch painter Maerten van Heemskerck also would not be welcomed into Florida schools. His work includes the most taboo topic in Christian thought for the last 2,000 years. That would be Christ’s phallus, known in traditions as ostentatio genitalium or the display of the genitals. Van Heemskerck’s painting, “Man of Sorrows,” shows a resurrected, stigmata-ridden Christ, whose loincloth reveals his private parts. Another 15th century painting by the German artist, Wolf Huber, is “Allegory of Salvation,” with a limp serpent hanging lifeless on a distant cross, while Christ is shown, his loincloth or perizoma flowing and his genitals exposed.
Artist Judy Chicago wouldn’t get to first base with today’s stodgy critics for her painting, “The Dinner Party.” The piece is an imagined banquet featuring 39 women from throughout mythology and history, including Sojourner Truth, Sacajawea, and Margaret Sanger. They each are seated at a table and each place setting depicts stylized vulvas. The piece is now seen as a landmark in feminist art, on permanent display at the Brooklyn Museum.
And then there was Robert Mapplethorpe who photographed celebrities, self-portraits, still life images and male and female nudes. But his most controversial works documented and examined the gay male subculture of BDSM, erotic practices or role playing involving bondage, discipline, dominance and submission, sadomasochism, and other related interpersonal dynamics in New York City in the late 1960s and early 1970s. A 1989 exhibition of Mapplethorpe’s work sparked a debate over use of public funds for “obscene” artwork and the Constitutional limits of free speech.
Much of the controversy over works of art that portray nudity could be avoided with the simple addition of a fig leaf or fig leaves. It’s been done before.
Prudity seemed to begin with the book of Genesis (3:7) which notes that Adam and Eve are covered with a loincloth or apron of fig leaves.
When Michelangelo’s David was installed in the Piazza della Signoria in Florence in 1504, authorities immediately placed a garland called a ghirlanda made of 28 copper leaves around his waist to cover his nakedness. The wreath was in place until around the mid-16th century.
The so-called “Fig Leaf Campaign” was started around 1541 by a fundamentalist, Cardinal Carafa, and Monsignor Sernini, the Ambassador of Mantua. The men wanted to cover naked figures in Michelangelo’s “Last Judgement,” in part because of a Catholic reaction to the modesty preached within the Reformation.
Wealthy Americans added plaster casts of classical statues to their 19th and 20th century collections. The statues’ genitals were obscured with plaster fig leaves so as not to offend conservative patrons. Censorship continues in museums with the decision as with the visit in 2016 of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to the Capitoline Museum in Rome. The museum to put naked statues in modesty boxes.