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David's lineage corrected New plaque rectifies artist, birth date

Correcting the plaque beneath the statue of David in Delaware Park seemed simple enough to members of Buffalo's Italian-American community. Just change the artist's name from "Michael Angelo" to "Michelangelo" and the date of the great artist's birth from 1474 to 1475.

Surely, they thought, city officials shared their embarrassment over errors made when the inscription was etched more than a century ago and shared their eagerness to set the record straight.

"We tried for years. We thought it would be a walk in the park," said Donald A. Alessi, no pun intended. "It wasn't."

For reasons that are not entirely clear, administration after administration balked at making the requested alterations to one of Buffalo's most visible and treasured pieces of public art -- the only exact bronze replica of Michelangelo's famous statue in the United States.

But perseverance finally paid off Tuesday as Alessi and other members of the Federation of Italian-American Societies of Western New York gathered on the hill between Hoyt Lake and the Scajaquada Expressway to celebrate a new brass plaque covering the historical flubs.

They lauded Mayor Byron W. Brown, who approved the corrections, and State Sen. Antoine M. Thompson, D-Buffalo, who secured a $5,000 state grant to pay for the new engraving.

The long delay stemmed from a dispute between the Italian-American community and local preservationists, who wanted to retain the inscription for historical purposes despite its inaccuracy.

Andrew Langdon, president of the Buffalo Historical Society, bought the prize-winning statue in Paris as a gift for Buffalo's 1901 Pan American Exposition and shipped it home with the stipulation that no other copy be sent to the United States.

The original 17-foot-tall marble sculpture, which resides in Florence's Galleria dell'Accademia, depicts the nude biblical king before his victory over the giant Goliath. The only other two full-size castings are in Italy and Denmark.

After the city reneged on its agreement to have a permanent base made for David, Langdon himself paid for the work.

Anglicizing foreign names was common practice in those days, so the artist's name appeared as Michael Angelo on the stone pedestal. The listing of 1474 as his year of birth conformed with the no-longer-used Julian calendar, but was a year off by today's calendar.

When the Italian-American community raised objections, "We were always told, 'It's fine the way it is,' " said Peter Lojocano, president of the Italian-American federation.

Though "no malice was intended" by city leaders or the Buffalo Arts Commission, which maintains the community's public art collection, Lojocano said his group was determined to press the issue.

They found a sympathetic listener in Brown, who urged the commission to work out a compromise. Gerald Mead, a commission member, said they reached a resolution. In the end, the two sides agreed that the original inscription would remain -- but covered over by the new plaque.

Tuesday was the 505th anniversary of the unveiling of the original statue in Florence.

e-mail: tbuckham@buffnews.com

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