(active 1100-1150 in Catalonia)

The Fight between David and Goliath

c. 1123
Mural, 82 x 75 cm
Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya, Barcelona

This mural, removed from the wall of the church of Santa Maria at Tahull, is one of the most famous surviving examples of Catalonian Romanesque painting. The artist of this painting is referred to as the Master of Tahull.

The rigid hieratic saints or Christs enthroned seen in earlier works are here replaced by a vivid and expressive representation of the fight between young David and the champion Goliath, who is depicted in chain armour and armed with a spear and shield. When the fresco was first made it included a scene in which David and Goliath were depicted side by side, David using his sling and Goliath slain by the stone. These details have been damaged beyond restoration and there remains only this scene in which David beheads Goliath. Here too the colours have faded in the course of centuries. In the Romanesque fresco we see the decorative manner of representation characteristic of the Mozarabic miniatures, that is to say, the fight is not shown as taking place in any particular landscape setting, but is depicted against a background divided horizontally by lines similar to the fesses of a heraldic escutcheon. There is also some of the crudeness seen in miniatures, for example, the exaggerated size of the hands. But the fresco represents a conscientious effort to depict the story with great accuracy, for these murals served not only to decorate the church but also to instruct the people in Biblical history.

The artist clearly attempted to give the faces of David and Goliath certain individual features, introducing also such realistic details as the carrion bird beside the body, the lively drapery of the cloak and the Jewish cap on David's head. The fresco dates from a period when the fight between David and Goliath was thought of as an Old Testament manifestation of the struggle between Christ and Satan.

© Web Gallery of Art, created by Emil Krén and Daniel Marx.