(b. 1571, Caravaggio, d. 1610, Porto Ercole)

David and Goliath

c. 1600
Oil on canvas, 110 x 91 cm
Museo del Prado, Madrid

This painting addresses the subject of David and Goliath, which the artist repeatedly dealt with later in his career, with a perfect linearity of means and intelligence of iconographic invention. As in the early Renaissance, David is shown as the adolescent who triumphs not by his strength, but by his power of character and his faith. The oblique pose of the figure (David stands partly parallel to the picture plane) is constructed with admirable skill.

Caravaggio has a particular importance for Spain, for he originated the realist and 'tenebrist' style of painting that enjoyed such development and popularity there in the work of such artists as Ribera and Zurbarán. This mature work demonstrates the fundamentals of his art: an emphatic solidity created by a harsh contrast of light and shade; the immediacy created by staging the action right in the foreground, and eliminating all superfluous space around it (conventionally, David would have been given room to stand up, so to speak); the elimination of decoration, such as colour or elegant posture, in order to concentrate on the drama alone.

Suggested listening (streaming mp3, 11 minutes):
Johann Kuhnau: The Fight between David and Goliath (No. 1 of the 6 Stories from the Bible illustrated in music)