Giorgione’s Self-portrait as David
There has always been a violent streak to artistic creation, often expressed through military metaphor and in scenes of violence or its aftermath. You can see elsewhere on this site how swords have been used as symbols for paintbrushes.
In this print after a lost but famous painting by Giorgione, a founding father of the High Renaissance portrayed himself in armor as the victorious David who had just cut off the head of Goliath. To find out what this means one must identify the discrepancies with the story of David and Goliath. Edgar Wind pointed out in the 1960’s that Giorgione had made the giant’s head no larger than his own as David, a clear discrepancy. He surmised that the artist was presenting himself as a creative giant because the artist’s professional name was ‘Big George’, Giorgione in Italian (fig. 1).1 He was right but there is also a second play on words. In the pictorial language explained here, Giorgione as David has killed Goliath and now presents his "mind" or literally "head" as an example of his painting. Goliath's head is David's capolavoro or "head-thoughts" and the ability of the young Giorgione to compose and paint Goliath’s head is metaphorically compared to the young David’s heroic efforts.2
See conclusion below.
More Works by Giorgione
Learn how a common pose in art carries specific meaning, regardless of subject matter
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