In Florence, there is a fight to protect the dignity of Michelangelo’s «David.»

In Florence, there is a fight to protect the dignity of Michelangelo’s «David,» which has been an outstanding figure in Italian culture since the sculpture’s completion in 1504. But in today’s era of fast money, curators are concerned that the religious and political significance of the marble statue is diminished by thousands of refrigerator magnets and other souvenirs sold throughout Florence, which focus attention on David’s genitals, according to AP.

Cecilia Hollberg, director of the Galleria dell’Accademia, has positioned herself as a defender of David since her arrival at the museum in 2015, criticizing those who profit from its image, often in ways she deems «degrading.»

At Hollberg’s direction, the Florence prosecutor’s office has initiated a series of legal actions, citing Italy’s iconic cultural heritage code, which protects artistic treasures from disrespectful and unauthorized commercial use. According to Hollberg, since 2017, the Academy has received hundreds of thousands of euros in compensation for damages.

This has been followed by lawsuits to protect masterpieces in other museums, including Leonardo da Vinci’s «Vitruvian Man,» Donatello’s «David,» and Botticelli’s «The Birth of Venus.»

In a broader sense, these decisions raise questions about whether institutions should be arbiters of taste and to what extent freedom of expression is limited.

«It raises not only legal questions, but also philosophical questions. What does cultural heritage mean? How much power do you want to give institutions over ideas and images that are in the public domain?» said art market lawyer Thomas S. Danziger of New York.

Italy’s cultural code is unusual in its scope: essentially, it permanently grants copyright to the museum or institution to which it belongs.

The lawsuits discuss whether Italy’s law violates the European Union’s 2019 directive, which states that any work of art no longer protected by copyright becomes public domain, meaning that «everyone shall have the right to create, use, and share copies of that work.»

Hollberg won her first case against ticket scalpers who used David’s image to sell entrance tickets at a markup outside the Academy’s doors. She also targeted GQ Italia for superimposing a model’s face on David’s body and the bold Florentine version of Longchamp’s Le Pliage bag from the luxury fashion brand Longchamp with more intimate details of David.

Longchamp stated that the image was «not without irony,» and the bag is «an opportunity to express with a fun lightness the creative force that has always animated this wonderful city.»

Regardless of how many lawsuits Hollberg has initiated (she doesn’t say exactly how many), the distribution of David’s images continues. «I’m sorry that there is so much ignorance and so little respect when using a work that has been praised for centuries for its beauty, its purity, its meaning, its symbols, to create goods in bad taste,» she noted.

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