“The excessive use of force creates legitimacy problems, and force without legitimacy leads to defiance, not submission.”
― Malcolm Gladwell, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants
David and Goliath is a painting by the Italian Baroque master Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571–1610). It was painted in about 1599, and is held in the Museo del Prado, Madrid. The David and Goliath in the Prado was painted in the early part of the artist’s career, while he was a member of the household of Cardinal Francesco Maria Del Monte.
It depicts the Biblical David as a young boy standing over the fallen Goliath, the giant Philistine whom he has just defeated in single combat. It is a story we are all very familiar with. Yet Caravaggio has not here depicted the legendary battle — although he will show a more graphic moment in two later versions — he has shown a rather banal moment after David has cut off Goliath’s head.
However, Caravaggio is not downplaying this legendary battle between the overgrown Philistine warrior Goliath and the humble shepherd boy David — who will become King of Israel — he is cleverly sliding the focus from the well-known essence of the story to a more prosaic moment in the iconic story where David is preparing his trophy for display. It is another way, another angle by which to see the very essence of the event. It is Caravaggio’s signature way and very modern in its method.
The light is thrown onto David’s leg, arm and flank and on the massive shoulders from which Goliath’s head has been severed, and on the head itself, which displays the fatal head-wound made by the shepherd boy’s sling and shot. At first glance, it is not that obvious, that here had been, a terrifying giant that no Israelite would fight. Not until one sees perfectly placed by David’s foot that huge fist still clenched in its death throes. Masterful touch. It is the fist of the vanquished giant at the very feet of its conqueror, a dimunitive, ordinary shepherd boy. But no longer.
The overwhelming impression given by Caravaggio in his painting is of some action intensely personal and private — no armies, no triumph. But the victory of one who should not have triumphed given the facts of the situation. A…