Project Description

DAVID WITH HEAD OF GOLIATH – Caravaggio 1606

According to Pietro Bellori , this painting was executed expressly for Cardinal Borghese, and Goliath’s head was, in reality, the artist’s self portrait. There is, in fact, a document of 1613 relating to the payment for the frame of a work having similar dimensions. Caravaggio portrayed himself in Goliath’s head, while David, was the likeness of his “Caravaggio” possibly the painter Mao Salini. More recently it has been hypothesized that David is a portrait of the painter rejuvenated, which would make the painting a double self portrait. It has also been suggested that the boy is the same model as the one who posed for Saint John the Baptist. Torn between a feeling of disgust and pity, David wields the sword with a gloved hand; on its blade are inscribed initials that are difficult to read, but may stand for the motto “HumilitAS Occidit Superbiam” (humility conquers pride); the biblical hero is in fact a model of virtue.

The dating of the work has long been in dispute: if the hypotheses of a commission from Cardinal Borghese can be credited, Caravaggio must have painted it towards the end of his Roman period in which case it would be dated 1606. But the simplification of the forms, the succinct nature of the composition and the rapid brushwork, suggest that it was executed in Naples, and this is supported by external evidence and a discovery of a copy.