“Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might.
Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.
For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.
Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.
Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.
And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God: Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints; And for me, that utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the gospel, For which I am an ambassador in bonds: that therein I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.”
Ephesians 6:10-20 KJV
David with the Head of Goliath
Ca. 1600. Oil on canvas
CARAVAGGIO (MICHELANGELO MERISI DA CARAVAGGIO)
Caravaggio or Milan, 1571 – Porto Ercole, Grosseto, 1610
The Bible story (Samuel 1:17) depicted here corresponds to the moment when, as a young shepherd, David kills Goliath, the giant, with his sling and cuts off his head to triumphantly exhibit it. The episode of tying the giant’s tresses to reveal his head has no iconographic precedent and is not explicitly mentioned in the Bible, making this work yet another example of Caravaggio’s originality and independence.
This painting is first listed in an inventory of the Buen Retiro Palace in Madrid in 1794. Its previous history is unknown but it is thought, with some reservation, to be from the collection of Juan Bautista Crescenzi. This collector with a known predilection for modern artists-that is, naturalists- arrived in Madrid in 1617 and died there in 1635. Alternatively, it may have been brought to Spain by the Count of Villamediana, who was in Italy between 1611 and 1615. According to Bellori, he owned a David by Caravaggio. Finally, though less likely, it could be the David of Caravaggio that Monsignor Galeotto Rospigliosi left in his will in 1643. The painting’s presence in Spain is borne out by some period copies, all of which were made in a Spanish context.
During the 19th century, this canvas was attributed to the school of Caravaggio, and while it was later included in that master’s catalog, some critics considered it an ancient copy of a lost original. Caravaggio’s authorship was finally demonstrated by Mina Gregori, who published an X-ray of it that shows the first version of the giant’s head, with a dramatic expression, bulging eyes and a gaping mouth whose terrifying appearance recalls Medusa (Florence, Galleria degli Uffizi) and Holofernes (Rome, Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica), two paintings in which Caravaggio successfully expresses the horror of physical pain. This expression may have been changed because that painter’s client considered it excessively violent. In any case, the X-ray certifies that the canvas is an original Caravaggio. Attention has been drawn to the expressive containment of the head in the shadows, which contrasts with the customary image of David as winner, as well as the tight composition, which resembles no other work by this artist except for Narcissus (Rome, Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica), with its geometric scheme- based, here, on a rectangle.
As to this painting’s date: specialists agree that it is from the artist’s relatively youthful period, somewhere between 1596 and 1600.
El Prado en el Hermitage, Museo Estatal del Hermitage: Museo del Prado, 2011, p.98-99