Burning Question

Does Sarasota Need to Put Pants on Its David?

A Florida school principal resigned after a teacher showed Michaelangelo’s famous sculpture without warning parents first. Does that mean Sarasota's famous replica needs to cover up?

By Isaac Eger March 24, 2023

Image: Gigi Ortwein

This week, a principal at a Tallahassee charter school was forced to resign after a handful of parents complained that their sixth grade children were shown a photograph of Michelangelo’s David—who is famously nude—without the parents being notified about the lesson beforehand. Hope Carrasquilla was the principal of Tallahassee Classical School in Leon County for less than a year when the school’s board informed her that she would have to resign or else be fired.

“We’re Florida, OK?” Barney Bishop III, a lobbyist and the chair of the charter school's board, told Slate in an interview. “Parents will decide. Parents are the ones who are going to drive the education system here in Florida. The governor said that, and we’re with the governor.”

Bishop said that while the school doesn’t have any problem with teachers showing images of David, parents must be informed ahead of time to decide whether or not it’s appropriate for their child to see it. Bishop personally doesn’t believe it’s appropriate for people of all ages to see the work of art. “You don’t have to show the whole statue!” he said. “Maybe to kindergartners we only show the head.”

Bishop went on to say that the charter school teaches the Hillsdale Curriculum, developed by Michigan's Hillsdale College, a private Christian school whose educational ideology has become popular in Florida. (Hillsdale has been touted as a model for the new conservative direction of New College of Florida.) Hillsdale does not advise Tallahassee Classical, but the charter school does have a license to use its curriculum.

If the David thing feels cartoonish, that's because it is. The situation is similar to a gag in a 1990 episode of The Simpsons. In the show, when Marge Simpson launches a pressure campaign to force producers to tone down the violence in The Itchy & Scratchy Show, the mob turns its new censorious might on the David. “It’s filth!” the character Helen Lovejoy says in the episode. “It graphically portrays parts of the human body, which, practical as they may be, are evil!”

What does all this mean for Sarasota? After all, the logo of the City of Sarasota is the David, chosen because of the famous bronze replica John Ringling bought from Italy at the turn of the 20th century and that now stands in the Ringling Museum courtyard.

“I saw it when I was a kid,” says Sarasota mayor Kyle Battie. “Kids have always seen it. This whole thing is kind of messed up.” Battie says he doesn’t think Sarasota should hide the statute or its cultural heritage for the sake of people’s sensibilities. “When people think of Sarasota, they think of the Ringling Museum and the statue,” he says.

In light of this new debate, I asked Battie whether he still wants to change the city's logo. In 2021, former city commissioner Hagen Brody proposed revamping the city's seal and logo. Back then, Battie said he thought it might be a good idea to change the logo, saying that it resembled “a naked dude looking over your shoulder.”

Now Battie says he does not want to change the logo from the David to something else. “The statue of David has been a symbol of the city for a long time," he says. "David represents strength and courage and overcoming fear. That’s what it stands for in my mind.”

Update: I asked Steven High, the executive director of The Ringling, if the museum would ever put pants on David. "No, we will not censor or remove any work in our galleries due to a complaint," High wrote =in an email. "We will, however, engage in a dialogue regarding the subject matter or the concern of a visitor at any time. Our education team is particularly adept at discussing issues in art that some might find challenging."

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