Michelangelo's David Holding Secret Weapon?

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A close-up of the right hand of Michelangelo's David. Is he holding the remnants of a secret weapon?
Sergio Risaliti/Serge Dominge

THE GIST

- The weapon was known as fustibal, or staff sling, with a leather strap attached to the end.

- In his right hand David would hold a handle to which a staff had to be mounted, much like a golf pole.

Michelangelo's David might have held a secret weapon in his overly large right hand, according to new controversial research into the towering depiction of the biblical hero who killed Goliath.

Presented at "Florens 2010: The International Week of Cultural and Environmental Heritage," during a three-day tribute to Michelangelo's masterpiece, the study concludes that David's right hand is gripping the cylindrical fragment of a weapon.

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"Bulging with veins, the right hand is holding what remains of a terrible weapon used in antiquity until the 17th century," art historians Sergio Risaliti and Francesco Vossilla wrote in the book "L'Altro David" ("The Other David").

Called a fustibal, or staff-sling,the weapon was used to throw stones.

"With a leather sling attached to the end, the staff acted like a portable trebuchet (a large catapult-like device)," classical folklorist Adrienne Mayor, who was not involved in the study, told Discovery News.

The Bible says that when David went to fight Goliath, he took up his shepherd's staff, five smooth stones and his sling.

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Of these, only the latter is represented in Michelangelo's sculpture, as David holds the pouch of the sling in his left hand, above his shoulder.

Crossing his back down to the right hand, the straps of the rather long sling appear to be attached to a mysterious object.

"We believe the object is actually the handle to which a staff had to be mounted, much alike a golf pole," Risaliti told Discovery News.

Combining the right hand and the left hand, the staff and the sling, Michelangelo would have actually fitted David with a fustibal, according to the researchers.

Standing high atop the Cathedral -- this was the destination first envisioned for the sculpture -- the weapon would have remained secret, as people would have only seen David holding a staff in his right hand and the sling's pouch in his left.

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