FLORENCE, Italy (AP) – Michelangelo’s “David” is brighter but hardly spotless after the completion Monday of a controversial cleaning timed for the 500th birthday of one of the marvels of world art.

Some pale yellow streaks on the left shin and violet-tinged mold stains on the lower back resisted a “minimalist” restoration of the Renaissance genius’ depiction in marble of naked male beauty.

The cleaning of the towering masterpiece stripped away the grimy, gray patina of decades of dirt and soaked up damaging deposits of chalk in the marble’s pores.

Work resumed in September after an aborted start when the original restorer quit in a dispute over how the statue should be cleaned, sparking alarm from restoration watchdogs abroad, led by Columbia University professor James Beck.

As rays of sun bathed “David” in a warm light Monday under the dome of Florence’s Accademia Gallery, Antonio Paolucci, head of the Renaissance city’s museums, told reporters the restoration was a “minimalist intervention” that used “harmless, very light substances,” such as distilled water and rice paper.

“‘David’ is still itself, only what has changed is his luminosity,” said restorer Cinzia Parnigoni, who had toiled atop scaffolding for months, applying “mud packs” of cellulose pulp and clay to soak away the dirt as tourists gawked.

Now, the statue seems “less cold” than when it was covered with dust and dirt, Parnigoni said in an interview with The Associated Press. Darkened by grime, “‘David’ had lost its verve,” she said.

Gallery director Franca Falletti said it was as if “a light gray veil had been removed” from the masterpiece.

Some discoloration and other spots refused to disappear with the dabbing of cotton swabs.

Parnigoni replaced Agnese Parronchi, another respected expert who had trained with her at Florence’s renowned restoration school, Opificio delle Pietre Dure. Parronchi, fearing water could harm the surface, wanted to brush away the dirt in a kind of “dry” cleaning.

Parronchi said by telephone that she hoped to see “David” during the anniversary celebrations. When told restorers had left the stubborn stains in peace, she replied, “Good,” but stressed she couldn’t give judgment without seeing the statue.

One of the biggest critics of the restoration was Beck, whose fame as an art world bugbear was sealed two decades ago when he denounced the restoration of Michelangelo’s frescoes in the Sistine Chapel as too harsh because of the dramatic hues that emerged. He did not immediately return calls for comment Monday.

Paolucci contended critics fearing the same with “David” will be disappointed. “”David’ is that of always – the sculpture that is caressed, worn down and rendered precious by its 500 years of life,” Paolucci said.

Funding for the restoration came from Friends of Florence, a U.S.-based nonprofit group, and from a Netherlands-based group, Ars Longa Stichting.

“I was sorry there was so much dissent” before the restoration, said Countess Simonetta Brandolini d’Adda, president of Friends of Florence. Since the group monitored the diagnostic testing it was paying for, she said it had no doubt the chalky deposits were doing damage.

Chalk attracts moisture, which can then swell and penetrate the stone.

The 131/2-foot-tall depiction of the young Biblical hero who braved Goliath attracts 1.2 million admirers a year, and experts are studying the patterns of dust kicked up by throngs of tourist to see if air currents in the gallery should be altered.

Since “David” was unveiled before Florence’s citizenry on Sept. 8, 1504, it has weathered a lot of abuse. In 1527, the statue was damaged during a riot in Piazza Signoria. It was removed from the square to the shelter of the gallery in 1873. In 1991, an Italian painter smashed the second toe of the left foot with a hammer.

Scientific study before restoration turned up worrisome fragility of the statue’s ankles, which support more than six tons of weight. In June, the gallery will host a conference of engineers to study the problem, including concern over whether “David” could survive an earthquake like the one that devastated much of St. Francis Basilica in Assisi.

Birthday celebrations starting in September will include dance and musical performances and public debates about “David.”

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AP-ES-05-24-04 1448EDT

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