"It seems on the way to becoming something, but we're not sure what," she said. "That's why it goes by a double name, the 'David-Apollo.'"
The statue is on loan from the Museo Nazionale del Bargello in Florence, which tends to view the piece as Apollo pulling an arrow from his quiver, based on an account by Michelangelo's biographer. Other documentation, though, called it "an incomplete David," Luchs said.
An unfinished block of stone on the boy's back could be a quiver for Apollo's arrows or could be David's sling from the biblical story. A round mass of stone under his foot may have been intended to be carved as Goliath's head, historians have surmised.
Michelangelo Buonarroti carved the piece for Baccio Valori, who was appointed the Medici governor of Florence. Michelangelo had fought the Medicis with a republican resurgence but needed to make peace with the new leader of Florence.
It remains one of the Renaissance artist's greatest masterpieces and one of his most thought-provoking works, Luchs said. It's different from the famous "David" that Michelangelo carved 30 years earlier for the Cathedral of Florence that towers 16 feet high. This piece is life-size.
"It's special precisely because it is unfinished," she said. "The unfinished works allow us to see the sculpture taking shape. ... You can really follow the movement of Michelangelo's hand, driving the chisel across the stone."
Ann Stock, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for educational and cultural affairs, welcomed the Italian cultural showcase, noting Italy's permanent influences on America.
"Your cuisine graces tables across America, both in our homes and the finest restaurants," she said. "Perhaps most visibly, we owe our continent's name to Amerigo Vespucci, the famed Italian explorer."