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David with the head of Goliath
Caravaggio. Michelangelo Merisi
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Caravaggio. Michelangelo Merisi

Caravaggio o Milán, 1571 - Porto Ercole (Grosseto), 1610

David with the head of Goliath

Ca. 1600. Oil on canvas, 110.4 x 91.3 cm.

The Bible story (Samuel 1:17) depicted here corresponds to the moment when, as a young shepherd, David kills Goliath, the giant, with his sling and cuts off his head to triumphantly exhibit it. The episode of tying the giant’s tresses to reveal his head has no iconographic precedent and is not explicitly mentioned in the Bible, making this work yet another example of Caravaggio’s originality and independence.

This painting is first listed in an inventory of the Buen Retiro Palace in Madrid in 1794. Its previous history is unknown but it is thought, with some reservation, to be from the collection of Juan Bautista Crescenzi. This collector with a known predilection for modern artists-that is, naturalists- arrived in Madrid in 1617 and died there in 1635. Alternatively, it may have been brought to Spain by the Count of Villamediana, who was in Italy between 1611 and 1615. According to Bellori, he owned a David by Caravaggio. Finally, though less likely, it could be the David of Caravaggio that Monsignor Galeotto Rospigliosi left in his will in 1643. The painting’s presence in Spain is borne out by some period copies, all of which were made in a Spanish context.

During the 19th century, this canvas was attributed to the school of Caravaggio, and while it was later included in that master’s catalog, some critics considered it an ancient copy of a lost original. Caravaggio’s authorship was finally demonstrated by Mina Gregori, who published an X-ray of it that shows the first version of the giant’s head, with a dramatic expression, bulging eyes and a gaping mouth whose terrifying appearance recalls Medusa (Florence, Galleria degli Uffizi) and Holofernes (Rome, Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica), two paintings in which Caravaggio successfully expresses the horror of physical pain. This expression may have been changed because that painter’s client considered it excessively violent. In any case, the X-ray certifies that the canvas is an original Caravaggio. Attention has been drawn to the expressive containment of the head in the shadows, which contrasts with the customary image of David as winner, as well as the tight composition, which resembles no other work by this artist except for Narcissus (Rome, Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica), with its geometric scheme- based, here, on a rectangle.

As to this painting’s date: specialists agree that it is from the artist’s relatively youthful period, somewhere between 1596 and 1600 (Text drawn from Pérez Sánchez, A. E.: El Prado en el Ermitage, Museo Nacional del Prado, 2011, pp. 98-99).

Check the encyclopaedia


Technical data

Inventory number
Caravaggio. Michelangelo Merisi
David with the head of Goliath
Ca. 1600
High/Height: 110.4 cm.; Width: 91.3 cm.
Royal Collection (Royal Palace of El Buen Retiro, Madrid, 1794, n. 1118; Royal Palace Madrid, “pinturas almacenadas”, 1814-1818, s.n.)

Bibliography +

Inventario Palacio de Madrid. 1689. I. Pinturas., Madrid, 1689.

Ainaud, J., Ribalta y Caravaggio, 1947, pp. 385.


Guttuso, Renato, La obra pictórica completa de Caravaggio, Barcelona Noguer, 1968, pp. nº38.

Pérez Sánchez, Alfonso E., Pintura italiana del siglo XVII: exposición conmemorativa de, Madrid Ministerio de Educación y Ciencia, Dirección Gener, 1970, pp. 122.


Museo Nacional del Prado, Museo del Prado: catálogo de las pinturas, Madrid Museo del Prado, 1972, pp. 116.

Caravaggio y el naturalismo español, Madrid Comisaría General de Exposiciones de la Dirección, 1973, pp. nº 2.

I Pittori bergamaschi: dal XIII al XIX secolo, Bergamo Poligrafiche Bolis, 1975, pp. 454-455, 597.

Marini, Maurizio, Michelangelo Da Caravaggio, Roma Bestelli e Bozzi, 1979, pp. 149 ?.

Bissell, R., Orazio Gentileschi and the Poetic Tradition in Caravaggesque, Londres The Pennsylvania State University, 1981, pp. 203.

El niño en el Museo del Prado, Madrid Ministerio de Cultura, Dirección General de Bellas, 1983, pp. 151.

Cinotti, Mia, Michelangelo Merisi detto Il Caravaggio: tutte le opere : es, Bergamo Poligrafiche BolisBanca Popolare, 1983, pp. 596.

Bonsanti, Giorgio, Caravaggio, Florencia Scala, 1984, pp. 42 / lám. 46.

Kitson, Michael, The Complete Paintings of Caravaggio, Italia Penguin Books, 1985, pp. 92.

Andrews, K., Caravaggio e Il Suo Tempo, Milan Electa Editrice, 1985, pp. 268.

Salerno, L., The Age of Caravaggio, Nueva York Metropolitan Museum of ArtElecta, 1985, pp. ?.

Museo Nacional del Prado., Museo del Prado : catálogo de las pinturas /, Madrid Museo del Prado,, 1985, pp. 118.

Museo Nacional del Prado., Museo del Prado : catálogo de las pinturas /, Madrid Museo del Prado,, 1985, pp. 118.

Marini, Maurizio, Caravaggio: Michelangelo Merisi Da Caravaggio ''pictor praestantissimus'': la tragica esistenza, la raffinata cultura, il mondo sanguigno del primo Seicento, nell'iter pittorico completo di uno dei massimi rivoluzionari dell'arte di tutti i tempi, Roma Newton Compton, 1987, pp. 178, nº 37.

Gash, J., Caravaggio, Londres Bloomsbury Books, 1988, pp. 62.

Garrard, Mary D., Artemisia Gentileschi: the image of the female hero in itali, Princeton University Press, 1989, pp. 311 / lám. 276.

Passamani, Bruno, Giovanni Gerolamo Savoldo Tra Foppa Giorgione e Caravaggio, Milan Electa, 1990.

Museo Nacional del Prado, Museo del Prado: inventario general de pinturas, Madrid Museo del PradoEspasa Calpe, 1990, pp. 550.

Ebert-Schifferer, Sybille, Giovanni Gerolamo Savoldo Von Foppa Und Giorgione Bis Carava, Frankfurt Electa, 1990, pp. 327.

Gregori, Mina, Michelangelo Merisi Da Caravaggio. Come Nascono i Capolavori, Milán Electa, 1991, pp. 22, 28-29.

Buendía, José Rogelio1928-, El Prado. Colecciones de Pintura, Barcelona Lunwerg Editores, 1994, pp. 298.

Bettagno, Alessandro, El Museo del Prado, Madrid Fonds MercatorFundación Amigos del Museo del Prado, 1996, pp. 74.

CARAVAGGIO, Madrid ELECTA, 1999, pp. 106-109.

De Herrera a Velázquez: el primer naturalismo en Sevilla, Sevilla Fundación Focus-AbengoaBilboko Arte Eder Museoa =M, 2005, pp. 172.

Caravaggio y la pintura realista europea, Barcelona Museu Nacional D'Art de Catalunya, 2005.

Salas, Xavier de, Caravaggio y los caravaggistas en la pintura española : Universidad de Extremadura, Servi, 2010, pp. 379.

El Prado en el Hermitage : Museo Estatal del Hermitage : Mus, 2011, pp. 98-99.

Schütze, Sebastian, Staging religious history for collectors and connoisseurs, New Haven Yale University Press, 2011, pp. 256-295 [282-295].

Other inventories +

Inv. Testamentaría Carlos III, Buen Retiro, 1794. Núm. 1118.
Otra [pintura] de Micael Angelo Carabacho, con David, triunfante del Filisteo, de dos varas y quarta de alto y vara de ancho ... 500

Inv. Fernando VII, Palacio Nuevo, 1814-1818. Núm. s. n..
Pinturas Almacenadas [...] {22080} Vara y cuarta de ancho vara y media de alto, David = escuela del Caravagio

Inv. Real Museo, 1857. Núm. 2081.
E. Caravaggio. / 2081. David con la cabeza de Goliat. / Alto 3 pies, 11 pulg, 6 lin; Ancho 3 pies, 3 pulg.

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1872-1907. Núm. 77.
Caravaggio (Escuela del). / 77.-David vencedor de Goliat. / Alto 1,10. Ancho 0,91.-Lienzo. / Está el jóven pastor, puesta la rodilla izquierda sobre la espalda del gigante, que yace muerto en tierra, atando con un cordel, por el cabello, su cabeza ya separada del tronco.-Figura de tamaño menor que el natural. / Colec. de Cárlos II, R. Alc. y Pal. de Madrid, pasillos al pié de la escalera de la galería del Cierzo.

Exhibitions +

Caravaggio y el Norte
21.06.2016 - 18.09.2016

Exposición didáctica: el Museo del Prado en San Salvador
San Salvador, El Salvador
23.10.2015 - 29.11.2015

Exposición didáctica: el Museo del Prado en Guatemala
Ciudad de Guatemala, Guatemala
21.07.2015 - 30.08.2015

Exposición didáctica: el Museo del Prado en Honduras
Tegucigalpa. Honduras.
05.05.2015 - 28.06.2015

Exposición didáctica: El Museo del Prado en Santo Domingo
Santo Domingo, República Dominicana
07.07.2011 - 11.10.2011

El Prado en el Hermitage
San Petersburgo
25.02.2011 - 29.05.2011

Juan Bautista Maíno (1581-1649)
20.10.2009 - 17.01.2010

De Herrera a Velázquez. La pintura sevillana en la encrucijada de 1600
01.12.2005 - 01.03.2006

Caravaggio y la pintura realista europea
06.10.2005 - 15.01.2006

29.11.1999 - 23.01.2000

Gerolamo Savoldo
08.06.1990 - 26.08.1990

Gerolamo Savoldo
03.03.1990 - 31.05.1990

Location +

Room 040 (On Display)

Update date: 15-12-2015 | Registry created on 02-12-2015

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