David with the Head of Goliath2019-07-12T08:51:52+00:00

Project Description

DAVID WITH HEAD OF GOLIATH – Caravaggio 1606

Sent with the request for supplication to Pope Paul V, David with the head of Goliath, painted by Caravaggio in 1609, hides, perhaps, a double portrait of the artist.

Caravaggio, David with the head of Goliath, 1609, oil on canvas, 125 x 101 cm. Rome, Galleria Borghese

DESCRIPTION. PERHAPS A DOUBLE PORTRAIT HIDDEN IN THE CARAVAGGIO PAINTING
The young pastor David is represented by Caravaggio taking as a model a boy of the people. The young man is a teenager covered by a wide and thin shirt badly tucked into the poor pants. The clothing is far from being that of a soldier, it is in fact close to that of any teenager. David emerges from the darkness of the background, to the right of the painting. His face is reclined and he looks down at Goliath’s decapitated head.

The future king of Israel raises his left arm and, grasping Goliath’s hair firmly, exposes his head. The Philistine giant, despite having died, has a frightened and surprised expression. Caravaggio wanted to emphasize the astonishment of the soldier in seeing himself defeated by a young shepherd. On the left, the sword blade of Goliath emerges from the darkness, which Davide used for beheading. The letters H-AS OS are engraved on the blade. This is the abbreviation for “Humilitas Occidit Superbiam” (humility killed pride).

CRITICAL INTERPRETATIONS. A PAINTING IN GIFT TO SUPPLY THE GRAZIA TO THE POPE
According to the interpretations given already in the seventeenth century, the face of Goliath is a self-portrait of Caravaggio, by now ill and tired, who died in 1610. According to this reading, and according to a revisitation, Caravaggio painted himself young in the face of David. In fact the young man observes Goliath’s face without complacency, indeed, he seems to look at him with compassion.

A compassion felt by the young Caravaggio who observes the old man now in the grip of remorse for having led a dissolute life. In reality, perhaps, the purpose of the painting was to arouse the grace of the pope who had condemned him to death, in 1606 for the murder committed during a fight. The painting was sent to Cardinal Scipione Borghese, nephew of Pope Paul V, along with Grazia’s question.
THE STYLE OF THE LAST PAINTING OF CARAVAGGIO DEDICATED TO THE YOUNG KING DAVID
The painting, made in his last year of life, is part of his dark period. Thus the style of his large-format works, with a religious theme, is defined, which Caravaggio painted from the early seventeenth century. The famous Canestra di Frutta of 1594/1598 and the different versions of the god Bacchus belong to the clear period as the adolescent Bacchus of 1596-1597, already, however, with dark background. The atmosphere of David with the head of Goliath of 1609 is profoundly dramatic both for the subject and for the intensely expressive theatrical style.

COLOR AND LIGHTING. DAVIDE EMERGE FROM THE DARK WITH THE HEAD OF GOLIA
The lighting of the painting, which is part of the dark period of Caravaggio, is crucial in creating the tragic atmosphere of the narration. The light highlights the parts of the characters that are functional to the story. In the case of David with the head of Goliath the blade of artificial light hits the right side of the boy’s face, his bare chest, his left arm and the hand that exposes the head of Goliath. The face of the giant, on the other hand, is dark, livid and illuminated for a small portion sufficient to identify its physiognomy. At the bottom left a flash of light reveals the blade of the sword. The complexion of the figures is ocher and gray, brightened, on David’s face, by light blushes on the lips and ears.

THE SPACE OF PAINTING DAVID AGAINST GOLIA DI CARAVAGGIO
Only the light and the foreshortening of David’s arm, facing the front of the painting, help to clarify the limited space that the boy occupies.

THE COMPOSITION AND FRAMING OF THE PAINTING DAVID WITH THE HEAD OF GOLIA DI CARAVAGGIO
David is shown in half-figure, shifted towards the left vertical half of the painting and facing right. The composition develops along the diagonal of the painting that rises from the right corner down to the top left corner. Even the blade of the sword, lower left, reinforces the progression of this diagonal.

DEEPENING
According to the biblical narrative, Goliath was a giant philistine soldier. Thanks to his build and strength, he was elected champion of the army and destined to fight for the victory of his people. It is in the first book of Samuel 17, of the Bible, that the character is described. According to historical reconstructions, the episode should have taken place in the first half of the 10th century BC. The episode, which many artists depicted, is that of the clash between Jews and Philistines during which the giant Goliath fought against David.
Goliath is described as a gigantic soldier with a bronze helmet on his head and a metallic armor protecting his body. On his legs, he wore greaves, also in bronze, and he was armed with a javelin. Goliath challenged the army led by Saul, to which only David, a young pastor, responded. The boy, quickly, took a sharp stone from his bag and with a slingshot threw it towards Goliath. The stone buried itself deeply in the forehead of the giant who fell to the ground. Quickly David grabbed the soldier’s sword and beheaded him.

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