Caravaggio vs. Rocco Normanno “David and Goliath” – Compare and Contrast

Another repost of an essay I wrote in 2014 whilst at college.

Caravaggio - David and Goliath - 1599 - Oil on Canvas (110 x 91cm)
Caravaggio – David and Goliath – 1599 – Oil on Canvas (110 x 91cm)
Rocco Normanno - David and Goliath - 2006 - Oil on Canvas (150 x 150cm)
Rocco Normanno – David and Goliath – 2006 – Oil on Canvas (150 x 150cm)

For this compare and contrast essay, I have chosen two works of the same title “David and Goliath”, both painted with oil paint on canvas, but 407 years apart. The first of the paintings was done by the master painter Michelangelo Merisi Caravaggio in 1599; the second by Rocco Normanno in 2006. Both of the artists were/are Italian, Caravaggio was born in a town of the same name in Lombardy, northern Italy. Rocco Normanno was born in Taurisano, Lecce. In this writing I am going to pick them apart for their similarities and differences.

There is a great deal of similarities between the two works, mainly starting with the subject matter of the paintings. They both depict the moment that the young shepherd David beheaded Goliath; the Philistine champion, after felling him with a stone flung from a slingshot; as told in the biblical account of the prophet Samuel. Both of the paintings also show the wound inflicted from the slung stone and the wound still trickling with fresh blood; making it apparent that the fatal shot had contacted mere moments before the scene captured in each painting.

The paintings show David applying a certain amount of pressure onto the body of Goliath to keep the body still; Caravaggio’s David having just made the cut and Normanno’s just about to. In the two paintings, David looks very calm, collected and concentrated on his task and seems to be unaware of anything occurring around him at that moment in time. The look on David’s face in both pieces is a truly capturing look; it shows an act that today would seem completely barbarous as a normal and straight forward task. The pair show David grasping Goliath’s hair in preparation to lift the severed head to assert the victory achieved on the battlefield.

These art works are both incredibly rich in detail and realism, from the gestures of the forms down to the creases in clothing and facial hair on the fallen Philistine; and despite the four-century gap between them, they are both painted in the Renaissance style. Caravaggio has used his typical dark against light approach to really make the figures stand out, whereas Normanno hasn’t used quite so much dark in the background, but has made a more realistic approach to light and shadow, thus giving his painting a much better effect in my opinion; it sets the figures into a real setting or scene, unlike Caravaggio’s figures who are seemingly suspended in space; which leads me on to the contrasts of these paintings.

Now to work out some more of the differences between these two amazing portrayals of this well-known story, I will begin with the obvious, the difference in time setting. Caravaggio has gone for a time period that relates to the story of David and Goliath as told in the bible, although you can’t see anything around them, you can see by their appearance that they are set in the correct timeframe as the account tells. Normanno’s depiction however, is set in a much more contemporary setting, which is easily noticeable by the characters alone and their clothing; David appears in combat trousers with a jumper tied casually around his waist whilst Goliath is shirtless but wearing jeans, which are being held up by a belt. Furthermore, in the background of Normanno’s painting you can see a cityscape, a vast amount of silhouetted buildings and lights to show the city under the night sky; there is also quite a lot of factory smoke rising from various buildings behind the figures.

Another thing that I couldn’t help but notice is that Normanno seems to have taken away the miracle from this feat of David’s in his illustration; unlike Caravaggio’s, Normanno has shown Goliath as an ordinary looking man, as opposed to the giant warlord of a Philistine; Normanno has also shown Goliath to be wearing no armour whatsoever. Maybe Normanno felt that this would give the painting more of a modern feel, especially when in today’s age, there are many people who don’t believe in such things as miracles; whatever the reason I find that it takes away a lot of the power from the story behind the painting.

Caravaggio’s Goliath looks as though he is still alive despite the fact that his head has already been severed, the expression shown is one that seems as though he was still alive when the beheading took place. Normanno’s Goliath is not yet beheaded in his version, but Goliath looks dead already or at least unconscious. Also in Caravaggio’s version, the emphasis is on David, his face covered subtly in shade and barely discernible against the darkness; Normanno seems to show emphasis on the knife being used by David to cut off Goliath’s head; the Philistine’s outstretched right arm leads the viewer’s eye directly to the shining metallic finish of the blade.

In summarisation of the likenesses and contrasts of these two breath-taking super-eminent paintings, it is clear that they share an almost equal amount of similarities and differences; and although being painted in the same style and medium, they have two vastly different finishes. In addition to that, they both still manage to tell the story that inspired the artwork created, albeit in different time settings.

Bibliography:

Books:

  • Giorgi, R (1999) Caravaggio, New York, DK Publishing Inc.

Websites:

JG

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