David with the Head of Goliath
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Pietro Novelli
Italian, 1630s
Oil on canvas
49 1/2 x 39 1/4 in.

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A muscular young man with a strong profile, who looks fully destined to kill a giant and to reign as Israel's king, this David is no innocent boy with a slingshot. Carelessly cradling Goliath's huge, severed head with one arm and his oversize sword in the other, he gazes off into the future.

Pietro Novelli set David against a blank background, pushed his three-quarter-length body up close to the picture plane, and portrayed him as a common man rather than a patrician, following Caravaggio's famous examples. He followed Jusepe de Ribera in using a dark palette, portraying David as an individual rather than a generic common man, and emphasizing the ghastliness of Goliath's head. Novelli probably painted this picture during his time in Naples, where these dramatic contrasts of light and shade were typical.