David with the Head of Goliath is a painting by Caravaggio, which has been dated as early as 1605 and as late as 1609-1610. It was in the collection of Cardinal Scipione Borghese in 1650.
According to Giovanni Pietro Bellori (1672), this artwork was executed for Scipione Borghese, and Goliath’s head was, in reality, Caravaggio’s self-portrait. Moreover, there is a document of 1613 connected to the payment for the frame of a work having similar sizes. In addition, Scipione Francucci d’Imola poem, in a manuscript of 1613, including a description of this artwork, which was already in the Galleria Borghese.
More recently it has been hypothesized that David is a portrait of the painter rejuvenated, which makes this painting a double self-portrait
Moreover, there is an assumption that the boy is the same model as the one who posed for St John the Baptist. Caravaggio also treated the subject of this painting in a work from 1607, located nowadays in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, and in an earlier work from 1600, located in the Prado in Madrid.
A work by a follower of Giorgione (1510) became an inspiration for the artist. However, Caravaggio captured the drama more effectively by depicting the head dangling from David’s gloved hand with blood, rather that leaving on a ledge. The subject has a sword in his hands with an inscription H-AS OS, which is an abbreviation on the Latin phrase “humilitas occidit superbiam” (“humility kills pride”).
David is concerned and torned between a feeling of disgust and pity. The decision to portray him as rather pensive rather than jubilant creates an unusual psychological connection between him and Goliath. This connection is further complicated by the fact that Caravaggio portrayed himself as Goliath, while the model for David is “il suo Caravaggino” (“his own little Caravaggio”) – possibly the painter Mao Salini.
Biographical interest in the artwork adds another meaning to the already complex work: David and Goliath stand for Christ and Satan and the triumph of good over evil in the orthodox Christian iconography of that period, as well as a cold-blooded lover who “kills” his lover according to modern literary vanity. An example of the genre can be seen in the modern Judith and Holoferne of Cristofano Allori in the Pitti Palace, where Allori portrays himself Holoferne, although Caravaggio portrayed David not so cruel, but how deeply touched by Goliath’s death.
If the artwork was a gift to Cardinal Borghese, the papal official who has the right to pardon Caravaggio for the murder, it can also be interpreted as a personal request for pardon
The dating of a work of art has long been contested: if the hypothesis of a commission from Scipione Borghese, the end of its Roman period, can be assumed, in this case the “end point” will be 1606. But the simplified forms of the laconic nature of the composition and the rapid drawing suggest that it was performed in Naples and this is confirmed by external evidence and the discovery of a copy of Battistello (Florence, 1991). Of the various hypotheses put forward regarding the date of work, the most likely now seems to follow the murder of Tomassoni by Caravaggio, which occurred on May 29, 1606, possibly also because of the dramatic nature of this picture.