David with the Head of Goliath

Guido Reni

Guido Reni and helpers, David with the head of Goliath, second decade of the 17th century, oil on canvas, 222 x 147 cm, Florence, The Uffizi, Gallery of Statues and Paintings © courtesy of the Ministry of Culture

Exhibiting this painting in Room II, the “Room of the Sun”, next to the David with the Head of Goliath by Giovan Battista Caracciolo (also called Battistello), in the Borghese collection, is like coming full circle. The painting by Reni and his assistants presented in the exhibition is in fact a later version of the subject and painting of the same name now in the Louvre, the work of Guido alone and a highly successful prototype at the time, serving as an example for copies and variants. Painted in Rome for Ottavio Costa, the David in the Louvre was undoubtedly known by Battistello in 1612, before he completed his David for Scipione Borghese, in which the influence of Reni’s model is clear. We can therefore compare at close hand two works that interpret the same original, one to be considered a “study variant” by Guido, the other a contemporary derivation that replicates compositional elements and seems to re-propose the allure of Caravaggio. The same painting from the Uffizi, although not exclusively the master’s work, actually shows the contrary, namely the distance that Guido, and thus his workshop, had put between his painting and the style of Caravaggio. Here the latter’s adherence to naturalism appears to be limited to specific details – the plumed red hat, the sapling at the young man’s feet, the positioning of the legs that evokes that of the Madonna dei Pellegrini in Sant’Agostino –, while it is evident that Reni has moved towards a more composed, detached idea of devotion, towards bodies no longer so bloodless, but on the contrary displaying intentional monumentality. It can perhaps be said that also here Guido won his battle against his eternal antagonist. 


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