PICTURES OF THE BIBLE  © Serge Ceruti and Gérard  Dufour 2008






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David and Goliath; MICHELANGELO Buonarroti; 1509; fresco; Sistine Chapel, Vatican.

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The combat between David and Goliath opposes the weak man to the strong one, an adolescent shepherd, armed with a sling and a stick, against a professional soldier, built like a giant and strongly armed.

The fight takes the form of a sort of close combat won by David by seizing Goliath’s sword.

The sling in the foreground has served to put down the giant and to cut off his head.




Goliath is always a giant but his size is more or less human. The Middle-Ages represented him as a knight heavily armed confronting the shepherd David and his sling.

David is more or less young, seldom red-haired in spite of the text; he is dressed as a shepherd can be imagined. The Renaissance wanted to show his beauty, hence sometimes his nakedness.

Victorious David brings back the head of his opponent like a trophy. This subject is sometimes independent of the fight. David is then surrounded by a crowd acclaiming him while he makes a few dance steps.

It should not be confused with


Cain killing Abel; TITIAN, 1542-44; ceiling painting; basilica Santa Maria della Salute, Venice.

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The Combat between David and Goliath can be mistaken for that of Cain and Abel. But the latter ones are the same size whereas Goliath is a giant.


See Cain and Abel.


Perseus holding the Head of Medusa; Benvenuto CELLINI; 1545; bronze, Piazza della Signoria, Florence



David holding the cut head of Goliath can be confused with three other pictures;


First an image from Greek civilisation: that of Perseus who kills Medusa and exhibits her head;


Judith with the Head of Holofernes; Lucas CRANACH the Elder; c. 1530; oil on canvas; Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, Austria

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and then two biblical pictures:

that of Judith holding the cut head of Holofernes by his hair,

See Judith


Salome; Lucas CRANACH the Elder; c. 1530; oil on wood; Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest

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that of Salome carrying the cut head of John the Baptist on a platter.

See Salome and the death of John the Baptist.

But the fact that David is a young man prevents the confusion.




David and Goliath; MICHELANGELO Buonarroti; 1509; fresco; Sistine Chapel, Vatican.

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The first Book of Samuel, chapter 17

The young shepherd David enters the service of Saul, the king of the Israelites. The Philistines that they fight challenge them: who will accept to fight against their champion?

And there went out a champion out of the camp of the Philistines, named Goliath, of Gath, whose height was six cubits and a span. And he had a helmet of brass on his head, and he was armed with a coat of mail; (1 Samuel 17:4-5)

David offered to take up the challenge; he took his stick, his sling and five stones and advanced towards Goliath who
“when he saw David, he disdained him: for he was but a youth” Then David said to the Philistine: You come to me with a sword, and with a spear, and with a shield: but I come to you in the name of the LORD of hosts. This day the LORD will deliver you into my hand; and I will strike you, and take your head from you… that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel.

As soon as Goliath attacked, “David put his hand in his bag, and took out a stone, and slung it, and struck the Philistine on his forehead, so that the stone sank into his forehead; and he fell upon his face to the earth. Therefore David ran, and stood upon the Philistine, and took his sword, and drew it out of its sheath, and slew him, and cut off his head with it. And when the Philistines saw their champion was dead, they fled. (1 Samuel 17:42-51)



  David explains what is at stake in the fight: the recognition of the superiority of the God of Israel.

It is God who is the master of the combat. David’s apparent weakness does not count against the force of evil represented by Goliath. David’s victory is that of God.







David and Goliath; MICHELANGELO Buonarroti; 1509; fresco; Sistine Chapel, Vatican.

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The Middle-Ages knew that the heavily armed knight was invincible, except through trickery; hence the emphasis put on the use of the sling.


David killing Goliath with a Stone from his Sling; Michel van der BORSCH; 1332; illuminated miniature on parchment; manuscript MMW 10 B 21; Koninklijke Bibliotheek, The Hague.




David fighting against Goliath; Jean DREUX; c. 1450-1460; miniature on parchment; from the “compendium historiae universalis”; manuscript MMW 10 A 21, Koninklijke Bibliotheek, The Hague



David uses Goliath’s sword in different ways; but in Titian, he does not forget to thank God, the true victor.


David and Goliath; Peter Paul RUBENS; c. 1616; oil on canvas; Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena, California.



David and Goliath; TITIAN; c. 1540; oil on canvas; Santa Maria della Salute, Venice.

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Victorious David brings back Goliath’s head. These are two very different views of the young shepherd.


David with the Head of Goliath; CARAVAGGIO; 1606; oil on wood; Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.

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David with the Head of Goliath; Jacob van OOST the Elder; 1643; oil on canvas; the Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg

 Hermitage StPetersburg





David and Goliath; MICHELANGELO Buonarroti; 1509; fresco; Sistine Chapel, Vatican.

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David’s youth, strength and beauty have greatly inspired the sculptors of the Italian Renaissance; the young shepherd is the first male nude of western statuary.




1445; bronze;
Museo Bargello, Florence.

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The contrast between Goliath’s strength and David’s weakness makes the victory of this unequal combat unaccountable. Therefore it has always had the value of a model for those who can hope for a victory only with God’s blessing or thanks to the power of destiny.

That was the way the Florentines in the 15th century, the Protestants in the 16th century waged “a David against Goliath fight”. Who can find his bearings nowadays?





BIBLE PICTURES   © Serge Ceruti and Gérard  Dufour 2008