(b. 1591, Cento, d. 1666, Bologna)

Saul Attacking David

Oil on canvas, 147 x 220 cm
Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica, Rome

This painting was executed along with a pendant, now in Los Angeles, that depicts Samson showing his hair - secret of his superhuman strength - to Delilah. Guercino painted the pair of canvases in 1646 for the Cardinal Falconieri, who was at the time serving as Papal Legate to Bologna. The two paintings were separated at the end of the eighteenth century.

Guercino's increasing tendency towards classicism began in the 1630's when the painter fell under the influence of the late work of Guido Reni. Like its pendant, the Saul Attacking David is a splendid example of his late style, a period in which Guercino brought his investigations into classicising style to their fullest conclusion.

Despite the dramatic quality of the narrative, the composition of the painting is extremely balanced: everything centres on the monumentality of the two figures, contrasting protagonists of the scene. Almost frozen in their action, they are displayed entirely in the foreground, as if in a relief sculpture. The chromatic range, light and highly refined, is rather far from the richly impasted mode of the artist's youth, as is the way in which the shadows ably underline the plastic quality of the two personages.

Suggested listening (streaming mp3, 15 minutes):
Johann Kuhnau: Saul Cured by David through Music (No. 2 of the 6 Stories from the Bible illustrated in music)