Bologna 1576-Parma 1622
David and Goliath
oil on canvas, 108×87 cm
Having defeated the terrible giant Goliath, the Biblical hero David poses triumphantly with his enemy’s severed head. At first glance the painting may seem Caravaggesque: the fascinating imagery introduced by Merisi is not only evoked by the motif, but also by the dark background, the half-figure cut and the contrast between youthful innocence and human spite, all among the favourite ingredients of the artist from Lombardy. And the author of the canvas, Lionello Spada, indeed got to know Caravaggio, by whom he was, as Malvasia remembers, “warmly received and caressed”.
In fact, towards the end of the first decade of the Seventeenth century Spada visited Malta where the painter, after having trained in Bologna in the circle of the Carracci brothers, is presumed to have met and befriended Merisi. But if we take a closer look at the painting presented here, the Emilian tendency to idealize, the Bolognese “loving manner” clearly prevails on the generic underlying naturalism. Among other things, the composition seems to quote a canvas on the same subject, painted by Guido Reni and known in two versions, one at the Louvre and another at the Uffizi, which has been dated to around 1605. The geometric support on which the killed giant’s head rests has most probably been borrowed from this work.
Whereas there is only one known painting by Spada on this subject, namely the one found at the Gemäldegalerie at Dresden, we know from various sources that the artist has made several works on the theme that are now lost, and that used to be part of various Emilian collections (see in E. Monducci, Leonello Spada (1576-1622), Manerba (RE), 2002, 62, p. 136; see also Dipinti perduti o non rintracciabili, pages 191-213).