National Gallery of Art - THE COLLECTION
image of David with the Head of Goliath Andrea del Castagno (painter)
Florentine, before 1419 - 1457
David with the Head of Goliath, c. 1450/1455
tempera on leather on wood
overall (width at top): 115.5 x 76.5 cm (45 1/2 x 30 1/8 in.) overall (width at bottom): 115.5 x 40.6 cm (45 1/2 x 16 in.)
Widener Collection
On View
From the Tour: The Early Renaissance in Florence
Object 6 of 8

The unusual shape of this work is explained by its original use as a parade shield. Its painted scene is exceedingly rare—most parade shields were decorated with simple coats of arms. It may have been carried in civic or religious processions or have been made as a sign of authority for a citizen-governor.

Images of young David, who overcame seemingly insurmountable odds to kill the giant, were popular in fifteenth-century Florence, the smallest major power in Italy. The city saw itself threatened by such Goliaths as the pope, the duke of Milan, the king of Naples, and the doge of Venice. David's image is especially appropriate decoration for a shield since, throughout the Psalms, David's poetry echoes the notion of God as his shield: "His truth shall be thy shield and buckler" (Ps. 91.4).

Like many early Renaissance artists, Castagno has presented the action and its outcome simultaneously: David holds the loaded sling, but already the head of the slain Goliath lies at his feet. David's energetic pose, based perhaps on an ancient statue, creates a strong contour that would have been clear and "legible" as the shield was carried. Nevertheless, the youth's body is well modeled, rounded with light and shadow to give a convincing likeness of a body in action.

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