David with the Head of Goliath
, c. 1607, in the Kunsthistorisches Museum
, is a painting by the Italian
(1571–1610). Peter Robb
believes it to have been acquired by the conde de Villamediana in Naples between 1611 and 1617, as Giovanni Bellori
records Villamediana as having returned to Spain with a half-figure of David by Caravaggio.
The exact moment depicted appears to be that referred to in I Samuel 17:57: "When David came back after killing the Philistine, Abner took him and presented him to Saul with the Philistine's head still in his hand." The pose is a usual one for the episode, showing David striding in triumph with the head in his hand. In the Boghese version this has changed to an unconventional frontal presentation of the head toward the viewer, who is thereby placed in the position of Saul.
The painting can be compared with the David with the Head of Goliath
in the Galleria Borghese
, which dates from either 1607 or 1609/10. The two are very similar - Caravaggio frequently explored a subject in multiple variations, most notably his many versions of John the Baptist - but the Vienna painting is less 'dark' in mood, the David more triumphant than the introspective and oddly compassionate David of the Borghese, and the head of Goliath, widely accepted as a self-portrait of the artist in the Borghese, is more generic.
The model for David in both versions appears to be a more mature version of the pubescent Cupid of......