ROME—Visitors to the delayed 2020 United Arab Emirates World Expo in Dubai will be shocked to find themselves face-to-face with what looks like the decapitated head of Michelangelo’s Statue of David instead of his famously firm buttocks and full frontal phallus.
But when the organizers received Italy’s contribution—a 17-foot resin 3-D printed exact replica of the statue standing in full nudity at the Accademia Museum in Florence—for the Italian pavilion, they knew they couldn’t allow him to be displayed in his birthday suit in the Arab world.
Artistic director Davide Rampello, who was charged the delicate task of displaying a nude statue without showing full nudity, told journalists that the best solution was to build a stage around his upper and lower parts, which spans two floors of the installation. On the top floor, which is open to the public, David’s head and shoulders peep out of an octagonal box. One has to strain to lean over the railing to see the full monty.
On the lower floor, which is strictly reserved for VIPs, visitors do see him fully nude from the waist down encased in a similarly structured octagonal display.
The idea for the “beheading” came to Rampello after being told that it was too embarrassing to Arab men—not to mention illegal in Dubai—to be faced with such a blatant show of raw masculinity. He came up with the idea of a stage in which David would be seen as an actor. “The statue is placed as a testimonial of this theater, as an ideal actor, also because Michelangelo's genius is inspired by the profound concept of memory and has a double meaning,” he told reporters in Dubai. “In Christian culture the mother of Christ he comes from the lineage of David, and in the secular interpretation David is the young man who defeats the arrogant and brute power.”
But another Italian working on the project confessed to Rome’s La Repubblica newspaper that desperate measures were considered. “We even thought of putting on his underwear, but by then it was too late,” he said. “We realized late that it was a mistake to bring a statue of a naked man to the Emirates.”
The expo is not the first time Italians have had to err on the side of modesty. In 2016, when Iranian President Hassan Rohani visited Rome’s Capitoline Museums, discreet boxes were constructed over the nude statues to avoid embarrassment.