In July of 2018, conservation of the iconic Statue of David at The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art began. For two weeks, conservators from Conservation Solutions, a division of EverGreene Architectural Arts, worked high above the picturesque courtyard in the Museum of Art on an articulated lift to clean and protect the 16.5-foot statue. This project was possible thanks to the generosity of donors to the 2018 Sarasota Giving Challenge, sponsored by The Community Foundation of Sarasota County.
Find out about The Giving Challenge 2020
John Ringling purchased the statue, a cast bronze replica after Michelangelo’s David, from the Chiurrazi Foundry outside of Rome, Italy, around the turn of the twentieth century. It was installed in the Museum of Art Courtyard, and became the symbol of the City of Sarasota. The statue even starred in a 1965 promotional film about the arts and culture in Sarasota!
Over the years, the sun, wind, rain, and salt from nearby Sarasota Bay have contributed to corrosion of the bronze surface of the statue. A darkly pigmented wax coating had been applied repeatedly to protect the bronze, but this layer had failed over time—resulting in a mottled appearance that was heightened by exposure of the irregular patina below and leaving the bronze susceptible to further corrosion. The stone base beneath the sculpture was heavily stained with copper deposits and biological growth.
The 2018 Giving Challenge campaign made the much-needed conservation of David possible. The goal was to clean away the old wax, corrosion products, dirt, and debris, and then apply a light patina to return a more evenly colored appearance to the statue. Application of a new, overall wax coating would help to protect the bronze from the elements for several years.
One challenge facing the conservators was how to access the statue. The Statue of David is installed on a cast-stone base built into the railing of the bridge that connects the north and south wings of the Museum. In the courtyard, several feet below the bridge, there is a stage surrounded by a fountain. Conservators used a massive articulating lift, which enabled access above, below, and on all sides of the statue.
The first step in the conservation treatment was cleaning of the statue, from the top down. This removed grime, the remnants of old wax coatings, and loose corrosion products. This involved the controlled application of hot water in a pressure washer, followed by the use of small hand tools to gently remove more tenacious corrosion from the metal. Solvents were then applied to remove any residual wax and foreign matter from the bronze. Staining and moss growth were reduced on the cast-stone base using a low-pressure washer and a biological cleaning agent.
Above and Below: The statue after cleaning revealed how the tinted wax coating had obscured the mottled and uneven surface on the bronze substrate.
Next came patination. The bronze surface was generally stable enough to allow heating and light chemical patination in the lighter areas of discoloration to create a more uniform surface that was predominantly a medium brown color. This approach differed from previous conservation treatments in which dark pigment was added to wax and applied overall, to mask any irregularities in patina. An even patina layer will also further protect the sculpture from future aggressive deterioration.
Above and below: After localized patination of the upper section of the statue.
After patination, the sculpture was allowed to completely dry and cool before wax was applied to the surface. The wax was a specially designed mixture to protect the sculpture in our harsh climate. The bronze surface was heated again to the melting point of the unpigmented wax, which was applied to the surface and evenly distributed using brushes. The waxed surface was then buffed to impart a high gloss and durable finish.
Re-patinating the sculpture created a more evenly colored surface that appeared dark after waxing.
This extensive conservation treatment removed surface grime, the failed wax coating, and active corrosion products from the bronze, unified the patinated surface, and imparted a beautiful, high-gloss appearance to the statue. Over time, the wax will become weathered and dull, so periodic maintenance—involving washing and the application of a new wax coating—will be required every few years. This successful conservation approach ensures that The Statue of David will delight visitors to The Ringling and continue to stand as a symbol of Sarasota for many decades to come.
The Sarasota Giving Challenge 2020 is noon - noon, April 28 & 29. During this online giving event your donations will be matched by The Community Foundation of Sarasota County. You can Be The One to ensure that The Ringling, Sarasota's cultural gem, is cared for for years to come and that the work of The Ringling staff to inspire a love of art and learning can go on.