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Massive ‘David’ statue, a replica of Michelangelo’s work, topples at Glendale cemetery

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James Fishburne, director of the Forest Lawn Museum in Glendale, said a replica of Michelangelo’s sculpture of David fell over and shattered last weekend, likely as a result of a flaw in the design.
(Courtesy of Forest Lawn Museum)

It’s only a little bit ironic that a statue of David, the biblical hero famous for bringing down Goliath with only a slingshot and a stone, met a similar fate in Glendale.

That’s what happened Sunday morning when the full-size marble reproduction of Michelangelo’s “David” on display at Forest Lawn Memorial Park toppled over and broke into pieces. But, rather than being knocked down with a rock aimed at its head, the 17-foot-tall statue seemingly fell of its own accord.

James Fishburne, the cemetery’s museum director, said he was coming into work that morning to give a tour when he received word that the statue had fallen over.

“I was surprised, but I wasn’t shocked,” he said.

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Security reported the statue was still standing when they made their rounds at 5 a.m.; when they returned an hour later, it was on the ground and in pieces.

Fishburne, who has a doctorate in Italian Renaissance art history, said the design of the original “David” made it a little more fragile than similar-sized statues from the same period.

“It’s inherently delicate because Michelangelo, when he started sculpting it, was given a block that others had worked on,” he said. “They sort of sculpted him into a corner, so by its very nature, it had to be very thin.”

In 2014, Italy’s National Research Council reported that micro-fractures found in the original statue’s ankles and legs made it at risk of collapsing. The fractures were a result of age and the fact that most of the figure’s 5.5-ton weight rests on its left leg and a tree stump.

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The flaw is present in most faithful marble re-creations of the statue.

Fishburne said Forest Lawn Glendale is home to many other reproductions of Michelangelo’s works, including several other statues. The cemetery is also home to a stained-glass version of Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Last Supper.”

The cemetery’s “David” also wasn’t the first of that statue to be displayed at Forest Lawn — they’ve had six over the years.

“It’s been a beloved artwork for over 500 years from the moment it was created,” Fishburne said. “When you stand there beneath it and it towers over you, it’s a really impressive artistic experience.”

Shown is the broken marble head of Forest Lawn Memorial Park’s reproduction of Michelangelo’s “David.” The statue toppled over Sunday morning.
Shown is the broken marble head of Forest Lawn Memorial Park’s reproduction of Michelangelo’s “David.” The statue toppled over Sunday morning.
(Courtesy of Forest Lawn Museum)

The first replica came in 1937 but was brought down in 1971 by the Sylmar earthquake. A replacement statue was then put in place and lasted until 1994, when the Northridge earthquake brought it down, according to Fishburne.

Forest Lawn’s Cypress location also had its own marble “David,” but that shattered during 1987’s Whittier Narrows earthquake. Rather than replace theirs with another marble statue, the Cypress location chose to go with a full-scale bronze “David” instead, Fishburne said .

After Northridge, the Glendale location again replaced its statue in the cemetery, where it stood until Sunday.

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“We worked with an Italian studio and it was sculpted in Carrara marble, which is from the same quarry Michelangelo used,” Fishburne said. “It’s as close as you can get to the original. … It’s the same quality and grade.”

Right now the plan is to replace the statue once again with another marble reproduction, with possible tweaks to avoid another fall. Fishburne said the public should keep an eye out for an announcement in the coming weeks.

As for the broken pieces, Fishburne said they’re currently sitting in a storage yard at the Glendale cemetery while Forest Lawn officials mull over their options. He said they’re looking to possibly donate them to artists or an art school so they could study the pieces or use the raw materials for sculpting.

The broken “David” from Cypress was donated to Cal State Fullerton, where its separate pieces were put on display as part of the campus landscape while the head and foot from the statue that fell in 1971 is currently on display in Forest Lawn Glendale’s museum.

Nguyen writes for Times Community News.


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