Michelangelo's famous statue of the biblical figure David is at risk of collapse due to the weakening of the artwork's legs and ankles, according to a report published this week by art experts.
The findings, which were made public by Italy's National Research Council, show micro-fractures in the ankle and leg areas.
The "David" statue dates from the early 16th century and is housed in the Galleria dell'Accademia in Florence. The results of the report were published this week in the Journal of Cultural Heritage, a publication devoted to research into the conservation of culturally significant works of art and buildings.
Researchers found that the carved tree stump at the base of the statue is also at risk because it may also contain micro-fractures in the marble that Michelangelo used. Much of the sculpture's 5.5 tons rests on its left leg and the tree stump.
For more than three centuries after it was completed, the "David" sculpture stood outside in Florence's Piazza della Signoria. It was moved inside to the Galleria dell'Accademia in 1873, and a copy was put in its place in the piazza.
The new research, which was conducted with Florence University, shows that the sculpture has been damaged over the years by the vibrations caused by the millions of tourists who have come to see the work of art. Passing automobile traffic is also believed to have caused the tiny fractures in the sculpture's marble.
Researchers made plaster replicas of the sculpture and used a centrifuge to study the casts. Over the years, conservationists fortified the 17-foot-tall statue with plaster, but the work still appears to be at risk.
Reports in the Italian media say that experts want to move the sculpture to an area outside of the city or to an earthquake-proof room in order to minimize the risk of a collapse.