Michelangelo's statue of David is a world-famous renaissance masterpiece, but U.S. weapons manufacturer ArmaLite decided to improve on the original, and placed a $3,000 rifle in the young man's arms as part of its "A Work of Art" campaign.
The ad has caused outrage in Italy, where the original David – created in the early 1500s -- is on display at the Accademia di Belle Arti in Florence. The country's culture minister, Dario Franceschini, tweeted, "The advertisement image of an armed David offends and violates the law. We will act against the American company to make sure it withdraws the campaign immediately."
David famously used a slingshot to defeat the giant Goliath, making the gun imagery, thought up by the Illinois-based ArmaLite, even more inappropriate.
Mark Johnson, CEO of ArmaLite's parent company, Strategic Armory Corps, admitted the ad was "in poor taste" in a statement on the company's website. The statement said "We deeply regret that ArmaLite offended anyone by this media campaign. We will make every effort to be sure that any remnants from the campaign are removed from the public."
The statement added, "ArmaLite deeply regrets offending anyone and certainly had no intention of doing so."
ArmaLite's "Work of Art" campaign first ran in May 2013, before the 60-year-old company was bought by Strategic Armory Corps in July, but has only recently been noticed by the Italian media, hence the outrage. The company did not respond to questions about where the ads ran, and which ad agency created them.
Angello Tartuferi, director of the gallery where the statue is on display, claimed that Italy owned the copyright to David, and told La Repubblica newspaper, "The law says that the aesthetic value of the work cannot be distorted. In this case, not only is the choice in bad taste but also completely illegal."
The company has reproduced the ad on its website, alongside user comments, many of which are supportive. Randy wrote, "I see nothing wrong, especially when we see all kinds of advertising using manipulated images, this is the least offensive."
A work of art as famous as Michelangelo's David might be viewed as public property by many, ripe for the invention of memes. Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa, for example, has provided the basis for a number of advertising campaigns. Telecoms company Orange, based in France where the Mona Lisa is on display at the Louvre in Paris, ran a spot last November showing the painting winking and smiling at art lovers in the gallery.
Italian cancer charity ANT also ran an ad based on the Mona Lisa, showing her with no hair in a bid to draw attention to the effects of chemotherapy. Even ArmaLite itself referenced the work in another ad for the "Work of Art" series, which showed a gun on display in a gallery between the Mona Lisa and Grant Wood's famous 1930s painting, American Gothic.
The Italians, however, seem to take the matter very seriously. Sergio Givone, a philosopher and culture minister, told La Repubblica, "It's an act of violence towards the sculpture; like taking a hammer to it or worse. It would be right to claim compensation from the American company. Maybe even an astronomical figure: a billion dollars, to be used to restore Pompeii, or to fund all the necessary maintenance in Italian museums."