The Old Testament tells of the shepherd boy, David, who felled a seemingly invincible adversary, Goliath, by slinging a stone that struck the giant on the forehead. The Biblical hero then used Goliath's own sword to cut off his head. Here, Cagnacci depicts David after the victory, when he made his triumphal return to Jerusalem, carrying the severed head of the Philistine. In the wake of the bloody battle he has changed into sumptuous clothes, as described in 1 Samuel 18.4: “And Jonathan stripped himself of the coat with which he was clothed, and gave it to David, and the rest of his garments.”
The young hero’s outfit is not illustrative of Old Testament dress, but certainly from a later period. The practice of depicting Biblical and historical protagonists in luxurious contemporary garments had a long tradition, which Cagnacci would have admired in the paintings of his Renaissance and seventeenth-century predecessors. These include Paolo Veronese, whose work he studied with great attention, and Caravaggio, whose followers he encountered in Rome. The clothing that David wears, however, is not typical seventeenth-century fashion, but perhaps theatrical costume—Cagnacci is also known to have maintained close links to the theatrical milieu of his day.