David and Goliath (Caravaggio, Madrid)

Presence of David and Goliath (Madrid)

David and Goliath (David with the Head of Goliath) by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, in Prado Museum, Madrid
David with the Head of Goliath 
(1599-1600) by Caravaggio
David and Goliath (or David with the Head of Goliath or David Victorious over Goliath) is an oil on canvas painting, created by Italian baroque painter Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio between 1596 and 1600, and is held in Prado Museum Madrid, Spain. Caravaggio painted three different paintings about the Bible story of David and Goliath 1 Samuel 17 KJV mentioned. Madrid version in Prado is the first one, which is also assumed to be belonged to the youthful period by being one of the Caravaggio’s early paintings. Other two paintings created in 1607 (Version Vienna) and 1610 (Version Rome), are held in Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna Austria and Galleria Borghese, Rome Italy respectively. Three paintings similarly depict the Bible Verse on how David killed Goliath, who was the champion fighter of Philistines over Israelites. Besides baroque art style and modernist perspective of Caravaggio, his additions to the bible story like making young boy David tying the Goliath’s hair with a rope in order to reveal it triumphantly as a victory statue, add the Caravaggio’s art more independence.

David with the Head of Goliath Analysis

Severed head of Goliath in 'David and Goliath' by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio in Prado Museum, Madrid
Severed Head of Goliath
Caravaggio represented David as young and strong boy who was in adolescence period. However, Chiaroscuro technique is generously used, and it kept background black to create an arresting and dramatic scene, color choices of the artist are slanted towards a palette of dull colors. The canvas seems like brightened by a light source that shined from the side of the observers. Caravaggio preferred to keep the head of David in dark instead of Goliath. The head of Goliath depiction is totally clear to see to reveal the face expressions of the victim. Contrary to best known bible story about David and Goliath, the artist did not paint Goliath’s head extraordinary big but his one hand.

Depiction of David in biblical story of David and Goliath, in Caravaggio's David and Goliath painting, Prado Museum, Madrid
David the Shepherd Boy
David’s body seems like in equal strength with his enemy that should have been a horrible giant according to biblical context. David’s crosswise position in the rectangle surface area of canvas, draws the attention on face muscles and wound on the head of Goliath. Depictions of severed head in paintings, generally refer to famous life motto ‘Memento Mori’ that stands for a reminder of dead. Unlike the Cristian contexts derived from pagan symbols and beliefs, this motto was born between 16th and 17th Centuries. Caravaggio with his unique baroque style, is one of the best among other artists, who delineated this conceit of remember that you must die what is Memento Mori meaning in Latin.

Portrait of Caravaggio by baroque painter Ottavio Leoni, follower of Caravaggio, circa 1621
Portrait of Caravaggio (1621)
 by Ottavio Leoni
In the lower left corner of painting next to David’s right foot, piece of stones and a hook attract the attention. These tools probably represent the David’s sling and stones that he managed to knocked Goliath down. On the other hand, the hook might refer to an object to carry the head of Goliath as a trophy. This inference can be made due to David’s act of tying the hair of his victim with a rope from the perspective of Caravaggio’s baroque art. Artworks about victory stories, are well known cases even since Early Dynastic Period with one difference. The depiction of ancient gods and heroes on the temples, tombs, altars and steles, was a kind of aboriginal behavior in the aim of making political propaganda. The Victory Stele of Naram-Sin and The Altar of Zeus are quite good examples on this concept regarding Dynastic and Hellenistic Periods respectively. In latter periods, this concept transitivized into the aesthetic concern in terms of art. Caravaggio depicted Goliath as a man with tick curly hair and black beard in his first version of David with the Head of Goliath. Typical appearance of a Palestinian man shows itself in the face of Goliath, while David has more childish look on his barely colorized face in the shadows. The giant Goliath has glassy look in his slightly bulging eyes and open mouth. As to the Bible verse of the day that David killed Goliath, the young boy wears a beige trouser and white shirt made of fabric properly, as a shepherd of the period. In terms of technique used in the painting, Caravaggio availed himself of older method called Chiaroscuro to create stagy but realistic scenes that leads to Tenebrism, which identified with Caravaggio himself. David with the Head of Goliath is one of them, by presenting the events after an underdog fight between good and evil.

Medusa by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio circa 1597, in Prado Museum, Madrid
Medusa (1597) by Caravaggio
In 19th Century, David with the Head of Goliath is held by the School of Caravaggio and master’s catalog respectively. At this time some art experts claim that the canvas could be a perfect copy of the lost original, but thanks to technological progress including the invention of X ray technology, Mina Gregori unveiled the hidden image beneath the canvas. As Caravaggio’s first thought, Goliath’s face expression and body language were more violent. This drastic look, which reminds Medusa, might has disturbed even Caravaggio and drawn him to soften the painting. As far as the brushstrokes also implies Caravaggio’s touch on the canvas, it is proved that the painting in Prado Museum was an original Caravaggio.

The David and Goliath Story in the Bible

Bible Verse about friendship of David and Jonathan, regarding David and Goliath story
1 Samuel 18:3
The David and Goliath Scripture regards to the Bible Gateway 1 Samuel 17, tells how the Philistine giant Goliath slayed by young shepherd David, the son of Jesse of Israel. When two armies come to the battle area, people of Israel are offered a single combat what refers to a duel between two warriors represent their sides. The winning side would have the right of making their enemies slaves. David, the youngest one of the seven sons of Jesse, steps forth and volunteered to fight for the rest. On the other hand, David may have been persuaded by King Saul to take his place in the fight, so that Saul would not have to fight even if he was a tall and strong man according to the Old Testament based on Hebrew Bible. The New Testament correlatively mentions about King Saul as Paul, as a name firstly used on the island of Cyprus and refers to the same person who was the King of Israel circa 1046 BC, thereafter interchange has been indicated by St. Luke too. Despite Saul’s confident appearance, Goliath’s image probably frightened everyone else on the ground except David. King Saul’s inadequacy comes in sight by this personal behavior. Thus, his unfitness as a ruler, makes the way for David to become a king with the help of Jonathan, who was the son of Saul, and David’s soul mate according to 1 Samuel 18. This is a good example of the bible verse about love and friendship. David only takes a sling and five smooth stones with his bag to encounter the giant warrior and reject King Saul’s armor to not let the armor weighs him down. The first stone released from David’s sling, shots the devil between his eyes and makes him down. The wound on Goliath’s forehead could be seen in Caravaggio’s painting clearly.

Saul and David circa 1660, painting by baroque artist Rembrandt Van Rijn, regarding Bible story of David and Goliath
Saul and David (1660) by Rembrandt Van Rijn
David swiftly takes the sword of Goliath after the giant falls and cut off his head. As a sign of triumph, David let the head of Goliath back to Jerusalem and kept his sword and spear. Caravaggio’s David shows its originality at this point by depicting David as tying the giant’s tresses with a rope while kneeling on his left leg over the Goliath’s body severed from his head. However, three Caravaggio paintings coincide the biblical story of David and Goliath, described in the Book of Samuel, scholars of today reasonably stated that Elhanan, son of Jair must be the one who killed Goliath in reality. The Bible authors concerning Deuteronomic history possibly changed the original text to mythologize the David’s story to give him more credit as a hero. Another alteration shown in David’s physical appearance, is clearly separable when biblical definition of David and Caravaggio’s depiction compared. Both perspectives proudly show off an adolescent boy having a great victory against a greater enemy, however Caravaggio renders David as stronger than he was via his muscular body representation. The cloths David wears on while fighting with Goliath, overlaps the biblical text. A robe made of white fabric and beige pants that Caravaggio portrayed, also coincide the image of David in the Bible.

David and Goliath in Prado Exhibitions

Statue of Hermaphrodite circa 1652 in Prado Museum, Madrid, by baroque artist Matteo Bonuccelli
Statue of Hermaphrodite (1652)
 by Matteo Bonuccelli
In June 2017, the Prado Museum, which has the largest art collection in Spain, announced its new permanent collection named ‘The Other’s Gaze. Spaces of Difference’. This title has the value of celebrating the World Pride Madrid 2017 and was also sponsored by the Region of Madrid. David with the Head of Goliath by Caravaggio, was a part of the exhibition Prado unveiled 30 works of art concerning iconic images about historical reality of these relationships and non-normative gender behaviors in the world of art. Although such works of art can be found and time throughout history, Baroque Period contributed greatly to the collection.

Painting of El Cid by Rosa Bonheur, circa 1879, depiction a lion in Baroque Period
El Cid (1879)
 by Rosa Bonheur
Regarding Greek Mythology, Statue of Hermaphrodite, who is the son of Hermes and Aphrodite, carved by Matteo Bonuccelli was the prior work of the collection that also supported by baroque artworks like El Cid by Rosa Bonheur. Yet, this is a perfect replica commissioned by Velázquez in order to create a copy sculpture of the original marble, which was in the Collection of Galleria Borghese in Rome, then Louvre Museum in Paris latterly. Roman Sculptor Matteo Bonuccelli has more sculptures in Prado Museum, such as Venus with a Shell, or Nymph and Lion, which made of guilt bronze. Jusepe de Ribera as a follower of Caravaggism, has an iconic painting named The Bearded Lady (or Magdalena Ventura with Her Husband and Son) with the depiction of a bearded man nursing a child that is also well-known scene from the artworks classified as Madonna, which associates the Mother Goddess Culture. Mother Goddess Culture generally rely on Ishtar (or Inanna), the goddess of love and war among Babylonian and Akkadian dynasties, and equal of Virgin Mary in Christian World.

The Bearded Lady (Magdalena Ventura with Her Husband and Son) c. 1631 by baroque painter Jusepe de Ribera
The Bearded Lady (1631)
 by Jusepe de Ribera
Yet, depiction of a man nursing child, is pretty unusual in terms of concept. Among 30 works related to transgender issues, the reason that Caravaggio was a piece of the exhibition, probably is the claim of sodomy about the artist, which was assumed a behavior that needed a trial according to Catholic Church. Ironically, David with the Head of Goliath, is acquired by Juan de Tassis, who was a noble man accused of sodomy too, until the painting was included into the collection of Prado Museum. Carlos G. Navarro, one of the curators in Museo del Prado, reported that “You have some really special triangular relationships, between a work, its artist and its collector” in the interview of New York Times had made about the Prado Exhibition in 2017. Yet this concept of collection is not limited to Prado Museum and shared by others.

David with the Head of Goliath and Two Soldiers circa 1620-1622 by baroque painter Valentin de Boulogne (Le Valentine)
David with the Head of Goliath and Two Soldiers
 (1620-1622) by Valentin de Boulogne
Some other museums are also explored this content in art like Tate Britain Art Gallery in London with the exhibition named Queer British Art. Regards to Golden Age of Spain, one of the prominent museums of Madrid, Thyssen-Bornemisza had also an exhibition called Inclusive Love, which has 10 artworks including the painting of Saint Catherine of Alexandria by Caravaggio and sculpture of San Sebastian by Bernini. Among the works of other famous artists like Auguste Rodin and Édouard Manet, a painting about the biblical story of David and Goliath within Baroque Era, comes to the forefront in the collection. David with the Head of Goliath and Two Soldiers was an iconic part of the set as a painting by Valentin de Boulogne (Le Valentine), who was a French painter influenced by Caravaggio while studying in Italy and famous for tenebrist paintings.

David and Goliath Modern Day Examples

As an underdog situation, usage of David and Goliath in real life, is an inspiration from the religious story of young and weak David against Palestinian giant. The story has been a piece of several contexts including books and reality shows. Non-fiction book by Malcolm Gladwell, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants (The Guardian review), published in 2013 in the fields of psychology and sociology. Moreover, this biblical story was the subject to movie world two times at least. 1960 movie David and Goliath made in Italy, tells the same story on biblical context in the genre of historical drama, while 2016 movie David and Goliath by Wallace Brothers, presents it in respect to both drama and action. Even that, this famous underdog concept inspired the competitive reality show Survivor: David vs. Goliath in 2018, which was issued under the roof of American CBS.
David and Goliath (Caravaggio, Madrid) David and Goliath (Caravaggio, Madrid) Reviewed by Articonog on May 17, 2020 Rating: 5

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