David with the Head of Goliath is unique in Renaissance art. It is a rare, if not the only example of a painted shield that can be attributed to a great master, and it is decorated with a narrative scene instead of the typical coat of arms. It was intended for display in ceremonial parades, rather than for protection in battle.
The subject was especially appropriate for a Florentine audience of the 15th century. As the smallest major political power on the Italian peninsula, the city saw itself as a young David contending with such powerful Goliaths as the Pope, the Duke of Milan, the King of Naples, and the Doge of Venice. In Castagno's shield, David is depicted preparing to attack Goliath, having already chosen a smooth stone from the riverbank for his sling. The conclusion appears at the bottom of the shield; the terrible giant's severed head, with the stone embedded in its forehead, lies at David's feet as a warning to any potential enemies of Florence.
For this interpretation of the Old Testament hero, Castagno chose a young athlete, whose pose shows the painter's awareness of classical prototypes. Castagno demonstrated his knowledge of the new science of anatomy by modeling the figure in light and shadow, articulating the muscles and veins of the arms and legs, and giving powerful activity to David's running pose and windblown garments.
Marks and Labels
Purchased, probably in Italy, in 1852 (for 6 Pounds, 13 shillings) by William Drury-Lowe [1802-1877], Locko Park, Derbyshire; by inheritance to his son, William Drury Nathaniel Drury-Lowe [d. 1906], Locko Park; by inheritance to his son, William Drury Drury-Lowe [d. 1916], Locko Park; Captain Hanbury, by November 1912; purchased by (Thomas Agnew & Sons, Ltd., London); (Arthur J. Sulley & Co., London); sold 13 January 1913 to Peter A.B. Widener, Lynnewood Hall, Elkins Park, Pennsylvania; inheritance from Estate of Peter A.B. Widener by gift through power of appointment of Joseph E. Widener, Elkins Park, Pennsylvania; gift 1942 to NGA.
- Art Treasures of the United Kingdom: Paintings by Ancient Masters, Art Treasures Palace, Manchester, 1957, no. 55, as by Pollajuolo.
- Berenson and the Connoisseurship of Italian Painting, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1979, no. 36, repro.
- Verrocchio's David Restored: A Renaissance Bronze from the National Museum of the Bargello, Florence, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 2004, fig. 13 (p. 43), not shown at two earlier venues in Florence and Atlanta.
- Berenson, Bernard, and William Roberts. Pictures in the Collection of P.A.B. Widener at Lynnewood Hall, Elkins Park, Pennsylvania: Early Italian and Spanish Schools. Philadelphia, 1916: unpaginated, repro.
- Paintings in the Collection of Joseph Widener at Lynnewood Hall. Intro. by Wilhelm R. Valentiner. Elkins Park, Pennsylvania, 1923: unpaginated, repro.
- Paintings in the Collection of Joseph Widener at Lynnewood Hall. Intro. by Wilhelm R. Valentiner. Elkins Park, Pennsylvania, 1931: 128, repro.
- Tietze, Hans. Meisterwerke europäischer Malerei in Amerika. Vienna, 1935: 48, repro. (English ed., Masterpieces of European Painting in America. New York, 1939: 48, repro.).
- Works of Art from the Widener Collection. Foreword by David Finley and John Walker. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1942: 5.
- Cairns, Huntington, and John Walker, eds., Masterpieces of Painting from the National Gallery of Art. New York, 1944: 34, color repro.
- Paintings and Sculpture from the Widener Collection. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1948 (reprinted 1959): 3, repro.
- L. J. Roggeveen. "De National Gallery of Art te Washington." Phoenix 4, no. 12 (December 1949): 335-336, repro. 332.
- Einstein, Lewis. Looking at Italian Pictures in the National Gallery of Art. Washington, 1951: 42-44, repro.
- Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. New York, 1956: 18, repro.
- Shapley, Fern Rusk. Comparisons in Art: A Companion to the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC. London, 1957 (reprinted 1959): pl. 17
- Shapley, Fern Rusk. Early Italian Painting in the National Gallery of Art. Washington, D.C., 1959 (Booklet Number Three in Ten Schools of Painting in the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.): 42, color repro. on cover.
- The National Gallery of Art and Its Collections. Foreword by Perry B. Cott and notes by Otto Stelzer. National Gallery of Art, Washington (undated, 1960s): 6.
- Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. New York, 1963 (reprinted 1964 in French, German, and Spanish): 80, repro.
- Summary Catalogue of European Paintings and Sculpture. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1965: 24.
- Cairns, Huntington, and John Walker, eds. A Pageant of Painting from the National Gallery of Art. 2 vols. New York, 1966: 1:40, color repro.
- European Paintings and Sculpture, Illustrations. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1968: 17, repro.
- Wittkower, Rudolf. "Desiderio da Settignano's St. Jerome in the Desert." Studies in the History of Art 4 (1971-1972): 6-37, repro.
- European Paintings: An Illustrated Summary Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1975: 58, repro.
- Calvocoressi, Richard. "Locko Park. An Important Family Collection." The Connoisseur 192 (June 1976): 141.
- King, Marian. Adventures in Art: National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. New York, 1978: 18, pl. 1.
- Shapley, Fern Rusk. Catalogue of the Italian Paintings. 2 vols. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1979: I:129-130, II:pl. 89
- Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Rev. ed. New York, 1984: 92, no. 54, color repro.
- European Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1985: 77, repro.
- National Gallery of Art, Washington. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1992: 17, repro.
- Adams, Laurie Schneider. Art and Psychoanalysis. New York, 1993: 54-55, fig. 10.
- Olszewski, Edward. Prophecy and Prolepsis in Donatello's Marble "David". 1998: 73, repro. no. 15.
- Boskovits, Miklós, David Alan Brown, et al. Italian Paintings of the Fifteenth Century. The Systematic Catalogue of the National Gallery of Art. Washington, 2003: 3-7, color repro.
- Hand, John Oliver. National Gallery of Art: Master Paintings from the Collection. Washington and New York, 2004: 16-17, no. 9, color repro.
- Giovanni Bellini. Exh. cat. by Mauro Lucco and Giovanni Carlo Federico Villa. Scuderie del Quirinale, Rome, 2008-2009. Milan, 2008: 92.
- Mack, Rosamund E. "When Armor was Art: Exploring Images of Armor in the National Gallery of Art Collections." Washington, 1990: color repro.
- Bober, Phyllis Pray and Ruther Rubinstein. Renaissance Artists & Antique Sculpture: A Handbook of Sources. 2nd ed. London, 2010: 31, 39, 45 nt. 12, 151, 477, fig. 6.
- Pergam, Elizabeth A. The Manchester Art Treasures Exhibition of 1857: Entrepreneurs, Connoisseurs and the Public. Farnham and Burlington, 2011: 221, fig. 5.3, 224, 312.
- Dunlop, Anne. "Parading David." Art History 35, no. 4 (September 2012): 683-688, 692-693, 696, 698, 699, 701; color fig. 1, 2, cover; fig. 3, 4.