This post continues my series on Old Testament themes in the National Gallery of Art here in D.C. For the preceding post in the series, click here
A favorite theme in art history has been David's victory over the Philistine giant, Goliath (1 Samuel 17). The National Gallery
owns a beautiful painted shield depicting this theme by Andrea del Castagno. Dated ca. 1450, it is entitled, "The Youthful David." (Click image to enlarge.)
The wooden shield that forms the canvas of this work is intended for ceremonial purposes, such as for use in a parade. The biblical scene fits its unusual canvas, symbolizing, as it does, the inevitable triumph of God's plans and God's ways.
Notice how David's hand seems to reach out at the viewer from the shield. David's posture asks the enemies of God to stop and think. Vulnerable David, youthful, untrained, without armor (see vv. 38-39) is paradoxically filled with power and triumph because he is loved and chosen by God, despite his flaws. Those who would oppose him had best reconsider. David's power and kingdom are "not of this world," but stem from God's ability to use him in his vulnerability.
A second "moment" in 1 Samuel 17 is also portrayed here in that Goliath's head already lies at David's feet (see v. 51). The disturbing image of the giant's head also gets the viewer to stop and think.
Fifteenth-century Florence, the provenance of the painting, was a small political entity within its world, and would have identified with the themes of vigilance and reversal in the work. The danger for this audience, of course, would have been reducing God's purposes and the power of God's reign to the mundane, banal politics of their contemporary situation.