A Florence museum on Sunday invited parents and students from a Florida charter school to view Michelangelo’s “David” in person after the school principal was forced to resign following parental complaints that an image of the nude Renaissance masterpiece was shown to a sixth-grade art class.
Florence Mayor Dario Nardella also tweeted an invitation for the principal to visit so he can personally honor her. Confusing art with pornography was “ridiculous,” Nardella said.
The incredulous Italian response highlights how the U.S. culture wars are often perceived in Europe, where despite a rise in right-wing sentiment and governance, the Renaissance and its masterpieces, even its naked ones, are generally free of controversy.
The Italians are responding to the board of the Tallahassee Classical School forcing Principal Hope Carrasquilla to resign last week. The school has a policy requiring parents to be notified in advance about “controversial” topics being taught.
Carrasquilla believes the board targeted her after three parents complained about a lesson including a photo of the “David,” a 5-meter tall (17 foot) nude marble sculpture dating from 1504. The work, considered a masterpiece of the Italian Renaissance, depicts the Biblical David going to fight Goliath armed only with his faith in God.
Carrasquilla has said two parents complained because they weren’t notified in advance that a nude would be shown, while a third called the iconic statue pornographic.
Cecilie Hollberg, director of the Galleria dell’Accademia, where the “David” is housed, expressed astonishment at the controversy.
“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,” Hollberg said in a telephone interview.
She invited the principal, school board, parents and student body to view the “purity” of the statue.
Tallahassee Classical is a charter school. While it is taxpayer-funded and tuition-free, it operates almost entirely independently of the local school district and is sought out by parents seeking an alternative to the public school curriculum.
About 400 students from kindergarten through 12th grade attend the three-year-old institution, which is now on its third principal. It follows a curriculum designed by Hillsdale College, a conservative Christian school in Michigan frequently consulted by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on educational issues.
Barney Bishop, chairman of Tallahassee Classical’s school board, has told reporters that while the photo of the statue played a part in Carrasquilla’s ouster, it wasn’t the only factor. He has declined to elaborate while defending the decision.
“Parents are entitled to know anytime their child is being taught a controversial topic and picture,” Bishop said in an interview with Slate online magazine.
A message was left Sunday seeking comment from Carrasquilla about the invitations from Florence.
In a statement last week to the Tallahassee Democrat, which first reported the story, Carrasquilla said Bishop “expressed his displeasure with my leadership when parents became upset about policies or procedures not being followed to the ‘T.’”
Marla Stone, head of the Humanities Department at the American Academy in Rome, said the Florida incident was another episode in escalating U.S. culture wars and questioned how the statue could be considered so controversial as to warrant a prior warning.
“What we have here is a moral crusade against the body, sexuality, and gender expression and an ignorance of history,” Stone said in an email. “The incident is about fear, fear of beauty, of difference, and of the possibilities embedded in art.”
Michelangelo Buonarroti sculpted the “David” between 1501-1504 after being commissioned by the Cathedral of Florence. The statue is the showpiece of the Accademia, and helps draw 1.7 million visitors each year to the museum.
“It is incredibly sought-after by Americans who want to do selfies and enjoy the beauty of this statue,” Director Hollberg said.
The museum, like many in Europe, is free for student groups. There was no indication that any trip would be subsidized by the city or museum.