David con la testa di Golia (1606-1607 or 1609-1610)

Caravaggio (1571-1610)

David con la testa di Golia (David with the Head of Goliath)
16061607 or 16091610
Oil on canvas, 125 x 101 cm
Galleria BorgheseRoma

This painting was executed in Naples, where Caravaggio was in exile, following his flight from Rome in 1606 on charges of murder. The choice of the subject – the victory of the hero of Israel over the Philistine giant Goliath – was probably the artist’s own. Indeed, David does not gesture triumphantly but rather seems sad, melancholy and moved as he observes the severed head of Goliath, whose face represents Caravaggio’s own self-portrait.

In addition, the young man’s sword displays the abbreviation ‘H.AS O S, which critics have deciphered as the Augustinian motto ‘H[umilit]AS O[ccidit] S[uperbiam]’ (‘humility kills pride’), which when read together with the subject sheds interesting light on the last months of the painter’s life. This detail in fact renders plausible the theory that the artist sent the canvas to Cardinal Scipione Borghese as a gift intended for Pope Paul V to obtain forgiveness and permission to return to Rome. (GB)