Even in the Renaissance, everyone was a critic. Before Michelangelo’s David was revealed to the Florentine public on June 8, 1504, a few jealous artists carped that there were flaws in the vast nude — the right hand was a touch too big, the neck a little bit long, the left shin over-sized and something about the left buttock was not quite right. And when the statue was being moved into the central Piazza della Signoria, a group of youths attacked it with stones, foring the city to mount a round-the-clock guard (although the vandals’ anger may have been provoked by local politics, not aesthetics).

But the most disconcerting criticism at the time came from the powerful Piero Soderino, one of the top magistrates in the Florentine Republic. According to a tale told by the contemporary biographer (and avid Michelangelo fan) Giorgio Vasari, Soderino went so far as to tell… More…