David and Goliath, Orazio Gentileschi

Detail from Orazio Gentileschi (1563-1639),'David and Goliath', c.1605-1607

Orazio Gentileschi (Italian, 1563-1639)
David and Goliath, c.1605-1607

Oil on canvas, 185.5 x 136 cm
Purchased, 1936


Gentileschi's real surname was Lomi. His father was a goldsmith, and his elder brother Aurelio was a painter of fair ability. He went to Rome at the age of 17, and his early works were in the late mannerist style. From the beginning of the new century, after his encounter with Caravaggio, he turned to naturalism. David and Goliath is a rare example of this early change. The composition is strongly three-dimensional and in part still reflects Gentileschi's mannerist education, but the action is expressed in a new, dramatic and realistic way. The figures are sharply lit from above, creating distinct contrasts of chiaroscuro, even if the artist preferred to use softly blended colours.
The biblical subject of this picture became particularly popular after the Tridentine Council, as a symbol of the triumph of true Faith over Heresy, and was widely used by Caravaggio's followers.
In the 1620s Gentileschi moved first to France and later to England, where he became court painter to King Charles I.