In one of a series of depictions of David and Goliath, the Italian artist Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (29 September 1571 – 18 July 1610) painted David holding the freshly decapitated, blood-dripping head of Goliath:
The well-known twist to this panting is that Caravaggio painted his own self-portrait in order to depict the head of Goliath, and used his young boy-model Cecco to portray David.
But the twist to the twist is that Caravaggio and the boy were lovers. You can note the loosely tied pants on David/Cecco, which would have provided easy access for Rome’s most famous and notorious painter of his time.
Caravaggio’s work, however, with its easy naturalism, was somewhat forgotten until it was reacclaimed in the twentieth century.
In 1971, Paul Cadmus painted “Study for a David and Goliath”, with a nod of his head to Caravaggio:
Cadmus portrays his own, somewhat disembodied noggin in the lap of model and lover, Jon Anderson.
On the wall in the background is another one of the paintings from Caravaggio’s David and Goliath series. Jon Anderson is clasping at Cadmus’s hair, just as in Caravaggio’s paintings where David (Cecco) clasps the hair of his enemy, Goliath (lover, Caravaggio). There is a distinct red tinge at the bottom of Cadmus’ neck, and the square is held sword-like in Anderson’s hand, above (or into?) Cadmus’s head. Anderson’s clothing is, of course, much looser than Cecco’s.
Into this tradition comes Charlie White’s photograph, “Champion” (2006):
The ephebe in “Champion” is unidentified.
According to the artist’s website, “Charlie White is a photographer and filmmaker whose work has been exhibited internationally since 1999. White holds the position of Associate Professor, and is the Director of the MFA program at the University of Southern California’s Roski School of Fine Arts.”
White produced the 2009 short film, “American Minor”, which IMDb describes as “a meditation on the isolated world of an American teen, focusing on the external environment and internal state of a fourteen-year-old, upper-middle class girl.” And “White’s most recent monograph, American Minor, was published by JRP|Ringier in Spring of 2009. The publication included archived research materials, personal collections, process documentation, and completed works from 2003 to 2008, that related to his investigations of the popular representation of the contemporary teen subject.”
And here’s Matthew Stone’s, “David and Goliath (after Caravaggio)” (2006):
Stone was a young member of South-London art collective !WOWOW!, back in the early 00s. “His photos feature friends/artists/musicians and party kids – all associated with Matthew – posing in timeless, decadent and, at times, mythological gestures.”
I think Matthew Stone is Goliath in this photograph, but it’s hard to tell, because – unlike the others – there is no great age difference.
And lastly, here’s David Dalla Venezia’s painting, “No. 534 (from Caravaggio)” (2007):
David paints a lot of self-portraits, so the Caravaggio adaptation comes as no surprise. What is different here, is that the self-portrait is David as “David”! Goliath is unidentified, but has been beheaded by David’s blade/paintbrush. Again, David’s clothes are dishevelled, suggesting a relationship between the two men.
David says, “Since it is I who paints these pictures it is true that they are portraits of myself. However – as they are portraits of a man – they are also portraits of every man: what I depict of myself is common to all men; what I omit is that which differentiates me from them.”
Sometimes it takes an artist instead of a biblical scholar to see the underlying structure of the biblical story of David and Goliath – as a tryst between two former lovers, an older man and a young ephebe.
Each of these artworks plays with the inherently ambivalent character of the Giant – as both towering and threatening enemy and also protective, loving father figure. And so, they also examine the relationship between lovers, as both friends and enemies.