David with the head of Goliath
Oil on canvas
130 x 101 cm
51 1/8 x 39 3/4 in
Milan, Private collection.
Frangi, Giuseppe Vermiglio tra Caravaggio e Federico Borromeo, in
“Studi di storia dell’arte in onore di Mina Gregori”, Cinisello Balsamo 1994,
pp. 167-168; F. Cavalieri, Giuseppe Vermiglio e il San Giovanni
Borghese di Caravaggio, in “Nuovi Studi”, 3,1997, p. 55; M. C.
Terzaghi, Vermiglio all’Ambrosiana (in compagnia di Daniele Crespi),
in “Nuovi Studi”, II, 3, 1997, pp. 60 - 61; A. Morandotti, Giuseppe
Vermiglio, naturalista accademico e diligente, in “Percorsi caravaggeschi
tra Roma e Piemonte”, Torino 1999, p. 265; D. Cabrini, Giusppe
Vermiglio. Un pittore caravaggesco tra Roma e la Lombardia, Milano 2000,
pp. 118 - 119, n. 19; S. Benedetti, in Darkness and light: Caravaggio
and his world, catalogue of the exhibition, Sydney-Melbourne 2003, pp. 206-207;
A. Morandotti, in Dipinti lombardi del Seicento. Collezione Koelliker,
Torino 2004, pp. 70-71; A. Morandotti, in Maestri
del ‘600 e ‘700 lombardo nella Collezione Koelliker, Milano 2006, pp. 60-61;
V. Sgarbi, F. Magalhanes, Luce e ombra nella pittura italiana tra
Rinascimento e Barocco, catalogue of the exhibition ed. by Vittorio Sgarbi,
Milano 2006; G. Papi, La schola del Caravaggio. Dipinti dalla
Collezione Koelliker, Milano 2006, pp. 200-201, n. 57.
Sydney, Art Gallery of New South Wales (November 2003-February 2004) –
Melbourne, National Gallery of Victoria (March-May 2004), Darkness and
light: Caravaggio and his world, n. 64;
Paolo, Pinacoteca do Estado di San Paolo del Brasile (March-April 2006) - Rio
de Janeiro, Paço Imperial (Maggio-Giugno 2006), Luce e ombra nella
pittura italiana tra Rinascimento e Barocco, 2006; Ariccia, Palazzo Chigi, La
schola del Caravaggio. Dipinti dalla Collezione Koelliker, 13 October
2006-11 February 2007, n. 57.
The painting is lit dramatically from the top, and from the vague background emerges, as if in close-up, the
half-length figure of young David, proudly displaying the head of Goliath which he has just cut off the giant’s
body with the sharp silver blade of his sword, still stained with blood. The subject of the present painting
was one of the most popular of the early 17th century, for it allowed artists to experiment with both the
theatrical poses of Caravaggesque influence and more elaborate Baroque compositions.
The present work was a keystone in the rediscovery of the paintings of Giuseppe Vermiglio. The artist,
originally from Lombardy, when in Rome became familiar with Caravaggio’s works. His debt to the master
becomes apparent when comparing the present painting to two late works by Caravaggio of the same subject
(the one in Rome, Galleria Borghese, fig. 1; and the one in Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum, fig. 2).
Returning to Milan in 1620-21, Vermiglio offered a softer and more controlled interpretation of Caravaggio’s
compositions, meeting the academic taste of his contemporaries.
Francesco Frangi convincingly dated the present canvas to the early years of the artist’s maturity (Frangi,
1994). The graceful forms, the fine execution and the thick impasto of the present work appear consistent
with the paintings from Vermiglio’s latest Roman phase and with those from his earlier Milanese one. Its
composition and dramatic use of light, although a clear derivation from Caravaggio, are more delicate and
controlled in style.
David with the head of Goliath is only one of several Caravaggesque works by Vermiglio. As an academic,
Giuseppe Vermiglio used to reproduce the same subject with minor variations. As the David-and-Goliath
theme is concerned, the artist produced several versions whose difference from one another lies in small
details, such as the kind of metals represented, the chisel motifs on the armours, or the colour of the
draperies (for other versions see Giuseppe Vermiglio, 2000 pp. 118- 121; Pulini, 2001, p.18, fig. 15; I do not
agree with the theory by Papi in Papi, 2000, fig. 23). The present version appears to be a particularly
successful one, due to the colour combination of the draperies with the bronze-like skin tone of the
Furthermore, the present painting presents some peculiar similarities with St. John in the desert, another of
Vermiglio’s personal adaptation of an original by Caravaggio (in this case the St. John in the Galleria Borghese,
Rome). Vermiglio produced two versions of this latter work in his Milanese phase, one of which is today in
the Museo della Certosa in Pavia, whilst the other is with the Istituzioni Pubbliche di Assistenza e Beneficenza
in Milan (Cavalieri, 1997). David’s face is in fact almost identical to St. John’s the baptist’s, and is similarly
framed by curly locks of hair.