Friday, January 12, 2007

Castagno, David with Head of Goliath

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.

Castagno, Youthful David

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.

Castagno, detail

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.

Goliath's head, with stone

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.



Blogger Eliz F said...

At SBL there was a fascinating presentation in the fabulous "Bible and Death" session I attended that showed depictions of David with (and then without) Goliath's head over a couple of centuries in children's illustration. The presenter asserted that once executions stopped being public/ kids were no attending them, the illustration became much less gory. Some of the depictions earlier were pretty, um, graphic. Whereas in the twentieth century the head started disappearing, and David would be depicted with a slingshot.

Fri Jan 12, 09:01:00 AM GMT-5  
Blogger Bible artist said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

Mon Mar 16, 07:16:00 PM GMT-5  
Blogger Bible artist said...

That's an interesting observation! I'm illustrating David and Goliath just now for a children's Bible and I have chosen to show the scene before Goliath's beheading.

We do tend to avoid the blood and guts in our Bible pictures today.

Some great Bible Art on this blog, thanks!

Mon Mar 16, 07:19:00 PM GMT-5  
Blogger David said...

What do the 4 orbs floating about David mean. Are they refering to other stones which were flung by the slingshot? (the story I know of said that David felled Goliath with one shot)Or, do they refer to God's presence surrounding David as he battles Goliath? This is somewhat inferred by the orb in front of David and being transluscent.

Fri Jul 01, 06:12:00 PM GMT-5  
Blogger S and C said...

Hi David, If those are orbs they are pretty cool. However, I would have to get a closer look at this artwork. It's been awhile since I've seen it up close, and I can't tell if they might just be part of the way the shield straps are held onto the back. ---SLC

Sun Jul 03, 02:06:00 PM GMT-5  

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