David and Goliath (Caravaggio, Rome)

Presence of David and Goliath (Rome)

David with the Head of Goliath (or David and Goliath) by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, c.1610 in Galleria Borghese, Rome
David with the Head of Goliath
 (1610) by Caravaggio
David and Goliath (or David with the Head of Goliath or David Victorious over Goliath) is an oil on canvas painting by Italian baroque master Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio. Rome version is the last one of three paintings Caravaggio created in respect to best known Bible story David and Goliath and has all characteristics of Tenebrism and Baroque Era. David and Goliath (Rome) was created in 1610, when approximately the artist lost his life due to fever. The original canvas is held by Galleria Borghese, Rome Italy. Fist two painting on same concept, are in Prado Museum, Madrid Spain and Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna Austria, dated 1600 (Madrid Version) and 1607 (Vienna Version) respectively. As last David painting of Caravaggio, Rome version differs from the others by having a self portrait of Caravaggio as Goliath. Besides the fact that these three masterpieces are not defined as triptych, they have the features of being a slideshow of Caravaggio's life and its effects on artist's baroque style.

David with the Head of Goliath Analysis

Caravaggio's Self Portrait as Severed Head of Goliath in 'David and Goliath' painting c.1610 in Galleria Borghese, Rome
Caravaggio's Self Portrait
 as Severed Head of Goliath
Among Caravaggio’s religious paintings, the last version of David and Goliath has a self portrait of the artist, where has been depicted on Goliath’s face. Contrary to Vienna version, Caravaggio placed himself into the position of Goliath instead of David because of feeling guilty. Young shepherd David, as innocent and fair boy, cuts the head of evil with his own sword according to the religious story, where 1 Samuel 17 KJV mentioned in the Bible. By having killed by David, Caravaggio probably wanted to reveal his inner self due to his crimes up to 1610, including homicide of Italian guy named Ranuccio Tomassoni because of a disagreement on the tennis court. Rome verison of David with the Head of Goliath in Galleria Borghese, reveals Caravaggio's feelings and artist replaces himself with the evil Goliath to show his pardon to community.

Caravaggio's depiction of David the young shepherd in 'David with the Head of Goliath' c.1610 in Galleria Borghese, Rome
David the Young Shepherd
The days artist passed while waiting an answer from the pope by virtue of his pardon, probably made him more paranoid and depressive during he was in Naples (Napoli) and Malta. The violent depiction of Goliath leading Caravaggio’s himself, can be counted as a mirror for the artist’s aggression due to the runaway life he has had. This time, Caravaggio has done what he attempted in early period painting David with the Head of Goliath (Madrid). Goliath’s face expressions are quietly drastic and realistic in respect to Tenebrism, which is an art movement derived from Chiaroscuro technique and identified with Caravaggio Merisi. Bulging eyes and open mouth of the victim shows itself dramatically with a few drops of blood ascending from the giant’s head.

'H-AS OS refers to 'humilitas occidit superbiam' or 'humility kills pride' in Latin, Caravaggio depiction on David's sword
 (humility kills pride)
 on David's Sword
David represents justice, while Goliath was the guilty one. The sword in David’s hand contains an abbreviated sentence ‘H-AS OS’ that stands for ‘humilitas occidit superbiam’ which means ‘humility kills pride’ in Latin. According to 1 Samuel 17 Bible Gateway, David swiftly had both sword and spear after he took Philistine giant Goliath down with his sling and used that sword to cut the giant’s head. Contrary to David image in Vienna version, Caravaggio attributed a sad face expression to David because of his behavior, instead of showing the victory triumphantly. Caravaggio's purpose of using this abbreviation on his sword, still remains unknown. He probably wanted to show his pardon to public or gratitude to pope who had forgiven him. The balance of light and dark, is ideal as other Caravaggio paintings regarding David and Goliath story.

Wood print made of chiaroscuro technique David Slaying Goliath (circa 1520) by Ugo da Carpi
David Slaying Goliath
 (1520) by Ugo da Carpi
Considering the Madrid version in Prado Museum, Caravaggio painted David while tying Goliath’s thick curly hair with a rope just after killing him. Vienna version in Kunsthistorisches Museum introduces the moment when David serves the giant’s head to King Saul (known as Paul also). Besides these two earlier compositions, Rome version clearly reveals artist’s emotions such as sorrow, regret via David. As to Goliath, Caravaggio wanted to bring out violence that has always been a part of his life.

David Slaying Goliath (circa 1616) by baroque painter Peter Paul Rubens, on biblical story of David and Goliath
David Slaying Goliath (1616)
 by Peter Paul Rubens
The effects of baroque art style due to the period and art movement Tenebrism, which can be counted as Caravaggio’s rendition of Chiaroscuro painting technique, is clearly seen in the painting of David with the Head of Goliath. However, Chiaroscuro was found out in Italy during 16th Century by printmaker Ugo da Carpi, many artists concerning Baroque Period, highly utilized it. While baroque artists like Peter Paul Rubens, Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Frans Hals, Diego Velázquez, Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, Anthony van Dyck and Nicolas Poussin availed themselves of this old print technique to create three dimensional images regarding realism, Caravaggio took it a step further for the purpose of reveal dramatic scenes in his paintings. Thus, both Tenebrism and Chiaroscuro could be examined under the same roof, which is Caravaggism.

Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio in Baroque Period

 Self-Portrait (c.1589) of Simone Peterzano, who was the mentor of Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio
Simone Peterzano
 Self-Portrait (1589)
Michelangelo Merisi, also known as Il Caravaggio, was born in a small village of Caravaggio, where is at the frontier of Lombardy, near to Milan, Italy. The artist painted numerous canvases concerning religious art that he contributed with his unique style. In youthful period of Caravaggio, he was the apprentice of Simone Peterzano, a painter worked in Milan, and a follower of bergamasque style, which mostly indicates a kind of baroque music based on folk dances. Simone Peterzano introduces himself as a successor of Italian mannerist artist Tiziano Vecelli (or Vecellio), known as Titian in English, who was famous for Venetian painting, which had a crucial role in Italian Renaissance that is well known for great archievements in the fields of painting, music, architecture, sculpture, literature, philosophy, science and technology.

 Self-Portrait (c.1567) of mannerist painter Titian (know as Tiziano Vecelli), master of Simone Peterzano
Titian Self-Portrait (1567)
Among Italian society between 16th and 17th Centuries, the definition of ideal model for an artist, had been determined with firm standards such as being sophisticated and well-mannered person, who is educated with the norms of Roman Art and ideals of Ancient Greek by a master in an art studio. However, Caravaggio’s life is full of confliction with the church and authorities, he was a member of the household of Cardinal Francesco Maria Del Monte at first. David with the Head of Goliath (Madrid), has been created during this period of young Caravaggio while he was under the protection of household head. Renaissance archievements changed the art perspectives of some artists and encouraged them to paint bravely. Thus, the struggle of the artists with what is considered as conventional began.

Death of the Virgin (circa 1606) by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, created in the household of Colonna Family
Death of the Virgin
 (1606) by Caravaggio
Caravaggio painted same concept two times more based on the scripture of 1 Samuel 17 NKJV, story of David and Goliath where in the Bible told. Caravaggio’s painting objects and models, correlate Picasso’s Blue Period and poor times of the artists due to the usage of people from low class society like, beggars, sitters and immoral people from the street. But the reason Caravaggio was close to these people and used them for painting saints and angels in religious concept, is not about an emotional breakdown or bad economic situation like Pablo Picasso has had. The reason was probably artist’s nature and obsession of realism. According to some art historians, the reason of artist's aggressive nature, is lead poisoning due to white lead he utilized in paintings. Yet it remains arguable that if lead poisoning caused his death or fever.

The Seven Works of Mercy (c. 1607) by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, created in the household of Colonna Family
The Seven Works of Mercy
 (1607) by Caravaggio
Death of the Virgin in the inventory of Louvre Museum in Paris, includes the depiction of Mother Mary that Caravaggio used his own sitter as model, who had drowned in Tiber River. However, Caravaggio got involved in crime many times, he generally found support and protection from wealthy people like Colonna Family in Naples, where Caravaggio fled after he killed a young man called Ranuccio Tomassoni due to an argument over a tennis game. The Seven Works of Mercy was painted this period just before the artist found a rich patron among the Knights of Malta and passed to the island. Yet he was arrested because of a fight that he left a knight seriously injured. It is predictable that his rebellious nature had not let him to live an ordinary life wherever he passed, so that he had been getting in trouble each time. 

The Martyrdom of Saint Ursula (c.1610) by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, created in the household of Colonna Family
The Martyrdom of Saint Ursula
 (1610) by Caravaggio
After he was freed and arrived in Sicily, Caravaggio had his time here for months. When the time he wanted to turn to the household of Colonna Family in Naples to wait papal pardon, was last days of the artist. The Martyrdom of Saint Ursula was created thanks to Colonna Family, as a last Caravaggio painting that is still held in Palazzo Zevallos Stigliano in Naples (Napoli in IT). Artist’s famous paintings vary from mythology to religious context, such as 1598 dated painting of Bacchus, Caravaggio inspired from Titian, whose Bacchus and Ariadne. However their works do not remind each other in terms of visual arts. The concept that they availed of Roman Mythology, is the same source.

Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio's Bacchus (c.1598), depicts the god of wine and love in Roman Mythology
Bacchus (1598) by Caravaggio
Bacchus is the god of agriculture and wine, and roman equal of Dionysus in Greek Mythology. Painting of Narcissus can be count as another example, which is directly form Greek context. The painting created circa 1597-1599, depicts the hunter named Narcissus, son of the river god Cephissus and the nymph Liriope, however blind seer Tiresias is claimed as Narcissus’s mother according to the Ovid's Metamorphoses. The painting is held in National Gallery of Ancient Art (or The Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica) for the moment. Thus, it could be deduced that Caravaggio applied his originality not only Christian art but mythological stories too.

Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio's Narcissus (circa 1597-1599), depiction Narcissus in Greek Mythology
Narcissus (1597-1599)
 by Caravaggio
Whether biographers of the period like Fabio Masetti and Guilio Mancini had defined Caravaggio as a rebellious artist due to his crimes up to the year of 1610, when approximately he painted the last version of David with the Head of Goliath (Rome), today Caravaggio is assumed as an icon for modern art. The artist is also considered as a prominent figure for Italian Baroque and most famous painter in Rome, with the help of his flawless and striking scenes in all his works that he created with the inspiration of his life of full tragedy. His rebellious nature leading fights and crimes until lost his life in Porto Ercole in 1610, certainly had an impact on his artworks not only life. Yet rebellious artists and artworks are not rare cases among art world. Time always brings out better like in impressionism and post impressionism example in 19th Century.

Every Painter Paints Himself

Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio's Medusa (circa 1579), depicting Medusa in Greek Mythology, in Uffizi Gallery Florence
Medusa (1597) by Caravaggio
Depiction of the biblical story of David and Goliath comes to the forefront among other religious paintings Caravaggio crated. Those three canvases not only represent the fight scene between David and Goliath and aftermath from religious aspect, also mirrors the events in Caravaggio’s life and emotional condition of the artist. Same motivation can be seen in two version of Medusa paintings by Caravaggio, in the collection of Uffizi Gallery, Florence. A 15th Century concetto (a conceit in literary style), says ‘ogni pittore dipinge se stesso’ which means ‘every painter paints himself’ in English. The conceit is originally a Tuscan proverb that experienced throughout history.

Self-Portrait as the Allegory of Painting (circa 1638-1639) by Artemisia Gentileschi, daughter of Orazio Gentileschi
Self-Portrait as the Allegory of Painting
 (1638-1639) by Artemisia Gentileschi
This approximation proved its validity and had been shared by greatest artist of all such as Michelangelo, Raphael, Donatello, Leonardo da Vinci and Sandro Botticelli concerning Renaissance, while Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Rembrandt, Guido Reni, Johannes Vermeer, Artemisia Gentileschi and her father Orazio Gentileschi concerning Baroque Period. Italian architect Filippo Brunelleschi, who is famous for The Sacrifice of Isaac sculpture in Early Renaissance, mostly preferred one side self portraits to depict himself. Although self portraits refer to the paintings that depicts artists themselves, this concetto is not limited with self portrayals.

Pablo Picasso's Self-Portrait (1901), monochromatic portrayal during Blue Period between 1901-1904
Picasso Self-Portrait (1901)
The notion of ‘every painter paints himself’ sometimes alludes to the transition of feelings and inner vision of an artist. Pablo Picasso is a great example on that sense in respect to his Blue Period paintings like The Old Guitarist, The Blue Room, The Tragedy, La Vie and Celestina etc. Those paintings do not contain any image regarding the physical appearance of Pablo Picasso, but they all symbolize hope and depict the artist’s emotional breakdown because of the hard times he has had due to the loss of his close friend Carlos Casagemas, from the perspective of Picasso’s sense of art. As an anectode, Picasso's Blue Period is limited between 1901 and 1904, not a life time situation.

Vincent van Gogh's Self-Portrait in March 1887-June 1887, post-impressionist painting
Vincent van Gogh
 Self-Portrait (1887)
When it comes to Picasso’s monochromatic paintings, which refers to be finished with different tones of blue color except for very little usage of vivid colors, balance of tones reminds the theatrical lighting used In Chiaroscuro technique. But Picasso’s artworks of Blue Period, target to reveal the artist’s feelings more than creating dramatic expression or three dimensional images. Despite that slight similarity, Picasso’s symbolist and post impressionist paintings, become purely different from Caravaggism according to the purpose of technique used and colors choices. Same approach can be acceptable for Vincent van Gogh, regarding The Starry Night painting, however both artists unarguably have self portraits too. Thus, concetto of ‘ogni pittore dipinge se stesso’ is an art conceit that should be considered as both abstract and concrete meanings.

Usage of David and Goliath within Underdog Situations

An underdog situation based on famous Bible story of David and Goliath, refers to a struggle between strong and weak. In this case, story tells how David the weak but smart one took his disadvantages to advantage and managed to slay Philistine giant Goliath. Underdog situations are examined in Malcolm Gladwell’s book named David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants in terms of sociology and psychology. David and Goliath movie by Wallace Brothers, released in 2016, also could be shown an example how to use David and Goliath in different fields of art. Among numerous examples, rock band In Flames also has a song named ‘Goliaths Disarm Their Davids’ which based on same historical story.

David and Goliath (Caravaggio, Rome) David and Goliath (Caravaggio, Rome) Reviewed by Articonog on May 21, 2020 Rating: 5

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