Wed. Sep 18th, 2019

The other face of Goliath that Caravaggio preferred to hide

Genius and figure. That's how it went Caravaggio, the master of chiaroscuro who turned his own life into a brutal contrast of lights and shadows, like the one that appears in all his paintings. The oil that Prado Museum exposes since it opened its doors 200 years ago is not an exception, although it did not always carry its associated signature.

Is about 'David winner of Golia
t'(Painted around 1600), a biblical episode that the master of tenebrism leads to his ground, although not as much as he would have liked ... (we will see later). The originality of the artist lies in showing a moment of history that the sacred scriptures do not count. That is to say, he invents it by contributing a story of his own to the narrative.

The icing on Caravaggio

If you look closely, the young pastor has just cut the head of the giant after neutralizing it at the stroke of stone with its wave. And here comes the contribution caravaggiana: David uses the rope of the contraption to tie the hair of Goliath and bring it thus held in front of his people to record the victory.

Nowhere is this last trick of the clever young Jew written, but no doubt that the idea of ​​the painter would not have displeased him. It is more practical to transport the decapitated head in this way than in the Perseus style with the Medusa. The head ... or heads. Let's not stop talking about her or them because here lies the crux of the matter.

A provocateur of art and life

It can not be said that Caravaggio would have had a lot of head in life, beyond his artistic talent. He did not lose it, but almost. Lover as it was of the brawls, more than one ended with some death, but never with his. In fact, he managed to escape more than once from compromising situations, even with justice. Although its quarrelsome character it always ended up being imposed, as it happened with his revolutionary paintings.

Actually, he was a provocateur of art for his style, an extreme naturalism that used street models with dirty nails included or prostitutes turned into virgins. "Many people considered that a model that was not above reality could not be painted in pictures of this nature. There is a great revolution ", analyzes Andrés Úbeda, Deputy Director of Conservation of the Prado Museum.

Caravaggio used street models with dirty nails included or prostitutes turned into virgins

The one considered as the hooligan of art also left his personal seal in their jobs. There are many critics who consider that his face appears in many of his works, as if it were a primitive cameo.

His terrified 'Medusa' found in the Uffizi Gallery could be a self-portrait, as well as the young man from the 'Bacchus Sick' from the Borghese Gallery. The list is somewhat complete and also includes the painting of the Prado Museum.

Pictorial camels

The head of Goliath could be his own image. But attention, because here lies the great secret of the work, and not the possible self-portrait. "In 1991 we did an X-ray and discovered another face underneath," says Úbeda. It was actually the face that Caravaggio painted in a first version of the painting and that shows a decomposed giant.

"He appeared with his mouth and eyes wide open, horrified, in his last moment of life, proving how the little Jewish cattle shepherd had defeated the great warrior he was," he describes. "It's a terrible head", he finishes.

X-ray of 'David Victor of Goliath' by Caravaggio showing the giant's original face

X-ray of 'David Victor of Goliath' by Caravaggio showing the giant's original face
(Prado Museum)

The motive is not known, but Caravaggio decided to change the expression of Goliath (though not his physiognomy) for a much more serene one. Perhaps "the client did not like having such an unpleasant face in his house," the conservative speculates amused. Whatever it is, the painter "covered that face and painted another." The result was a Goliath not so terrible and resigned in the face of defeat.

Thanks to this hidden detail revealed by the radiography, it was possible to settle the existing controversy about the authorship of the painting, considered until then a possible copy of Caravaggio and not an original. "He painted two different heads and that shows that he is authentic", concludes Úbeda. "A copyist copies what he sees, not the construction of the painting," he clarifies.

The final result of the work, after the rectification of the head, constitutes "a prodigy of sobriety", determines the expert. A value not in accordance with the life of the artist.

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