The David Controversy

Michelangelo’s David in the Accademia Gallery

In a recent controversy that went viral on the web, a Florida charter school principal has resigned after complaints from three sets of parents regarding the presentation of Michelangelo’s nude statue of David in their children’s middle school class, claiming the image is “pornographic.”  The incident marks a turning point in the current “culture war” developing in the States pitting progressive vs. conservative American educational traditions.  Sparking an international debate regarding education and art, this dispute has garnered response from both Italians and Americans, including the Mayor of Florence, the director of the Galleria dell’ Accademia where the sculpture is housed, and the American university partnered with the charter school itself, the Tallahassee Classical School.

In late March, 2023, Hope Carrasquillo, the principal at the Tallahassee Classical School, was given an ultimatum from the school board chairman, to either resign or be fired after parents said they wished to be notified in advance when their children are being shown certain images.  The lesson which upset the parents also included depictions of Botticelli’s “Venus” and Michelangelo’s “Creation of Adam.”  Despite receiving harsh criticism, Barney Bishop, the chairman, has defended the school’s board position, saying that “parents are entitled to know anytime their child is being taught a controversial topic.”

Since Carrasquillo’s resignation, the city of Florence has responded to what is consider a completely inappropriate reaction to one of the most cherished symbols of its Renaissance heritage. The mayor of Florence Dario Nardella has personally invited Carrasquillo to Florence as his personal guest, saying that “art is civilization and whoever teaches it deserves respect,” and that to confuse it as pornography is “ridiculous.” His invitation comes as no surprise, as he has been praised as a defender of the city and its history, recently going as far as to personally chase a vandal away from spray painting Palazzo Vecchio.

The director of the Galleria dell’Accademia, home to the 17 ft. iconic statue carved by Michelangelo, has responded as well, by inviting the former principal as well as the entire Tallahassee Classical School community–including students, parents, and teachers –to see the work in person with a fresh perspective. Cecile Hollberg was shocked at the situation that was created, saying that “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.” The charter school has yet to respond, but Carrasquillo has said she may accept the invitation, adding she was very honored by the support of Florence.

Within the state of Florida, Hillside College, which provided their curriculum to the charter school, has effectively terminated its partnership and license with the charter school over the controversy. Emily Stack Davis, a spokeswoman for the college says their decision doesn’t reflect the Hillside’s classical curriculum, stated on their website as to educate on “the liberal arts and sciences and receive instruction in the principles of moral character and civic virtue.” Davis says that the David and other aspects of Renaissance art are certainly included in such curriculum as it reflects the “humanist form.”

This debate is nothing new for the David, who used to be covered in fig leaves in the 1500s when the Church found the nude depiction of the biblical figure of David inappropriate. However, this is the first time this specific debate has entered the U.S., as the recent so-called “culture war” has provoked conversation over what is considered appropriate to teach students in school and when. This situation with the David and Florida is one example of a much bigger transformation happening in Florida where lessons on race, gender, and sexual education have all been restricted in schools over the past year with recent laws such as the Parent’s Rights Bill and “Stop Woke” Act, but it is unique in that this is one of the first time that such an action has garnered such a strong response from a European country.