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David with the Head of Goliath

derivation from Luteri Giovanni called Dosso Dossi

(Tramuschio? 1487 ca - Ferrara 1542)

The panel, perhaps seen in 1648 “at the home of the Borghese prince”, portrays the theme of the warrior and the page, which was common in Giorgione’s circles. The painting, already interpreted as “David and Goliath”, depicts this episode in an unusual way, prompting critics to come up with other possible interpretations of the subject, such as “Saul and David” or “Astolfo and Orrile”. The extremely harsh painting style makes any reference to Dosso Dossi less than satisfactory, although he may have been responsible for the original composition of the work, of which several replicas exist.

Object details

17th century
oil on panel
cm 101 x 82,5

Rome, Collezione Borghese, mentioned in Manilli 1650, p. 71; Inv. 1693, Room V, no. 61; Inv. 1790, Room VII, no. 23; Inventario fidecommissario Borghese 1833, p. 6. Purchased by the Italian State, 1902.

  • 1933, Ferrara, Palazzo dei Diamanti
  • 2009-2010, Tokyo-Kyoto, National Museum of Modern Art
  • 2023-2024, Shanghai, Museum of Art Pudong
Conservation and Diagnostic
  • 1907, Luigi Bartolucci
  • 1914, Francesco Cochetti
  • 1921, Tito Venturini Papari
  • 1944/1945, Carlo Matteucci
  • 1996, Elena Zivieri e Guido Piervincenzi
  • 2009, Cecilia Bernardini e Gabriella Gaggi
  • 2022, IFAC (CNR Firenze)
  • 2023, Erredicci (diagnostics)


The painting features a somewhat incomprehensible and unusual subject: a young soldier in armour, accompanied by a page in a feathered hat, holds a decapitated head in front of him. Although there can be no certainty (Cantalamessa 1922), it is highly probable that this is a David with the head of Goliath, although other suggestions have been put forward regarding their identity, such as Saul (Ridolfi 1648; Ramdohr 1787; Piancastelli 1891; Venturi 1893) or Astolfo defeating Orrile (Schlosser 1900; Venturi 1913).

The Borghese inventories attribute this composition to Giorgione, while Manilli (1650) described it as the work of Giulio Romano. Venturi (1893) and Berenson (1907) recognised the hand of Dosso Dossi in the painting, while Longhi (1934) considered it to be by “a mediocre Friuli painter copying Giorgione”. Paola Della Pergola (1955) recognised it as an invention of Luteri’s, although did not recognise his direct involvement. More recently, Hermann Fiore (2002) recognised it as an imitator of Dosso and Ballarin (1993; 2016) identified the Borghese panel as a copy from a prototype by Giorgione.

The very crude technique and portrait-like tones, certainly not attributable to the masters from Ferrara or Veneto, clearly made this composition very famous, as there are several variations of it mentioned by critics (Gibbons 1968, Hermann Fiore 2002, Pericolo 2019). Therefore, it is much more likely that the work can be attributed to a copyist from the Ferrara area in the 17th century, someone able to give the Venetian atmosphere the features that are so exquisitely typical of the Po Valley.

Lara Scanu

  • C. Ridolfi, Le maraviglie dell’arte, overo Le vite de gl’illustri pittori veneti, e dello Stato (1648), a cura di D. von Hadeln, Berlino 1914-1924, I, p. 105
  • I. Manilli, Villa Borghese fuori di Porta Pinciana, Roma 1650, p. 71
  • F.W.B. von Ramdohr, Ueber Mahlerei und Bildhauerarbeit in Rom: für Liebhaber des Schönen in der Kunst, Lipsia 1787, p. 303
  • E. Plattner, Bes Chreibung der Stadt Rom, III.3. Das Marsfeld, die Tiberinsel, Trastevere und der Janiculus, III, Stuttgart 1842, pp. 275-276
  • G. Piancastelli, Catalogo dei quadri della Galleria Borghese in Archivio Galleria Borghese, 1891, p. 8
  • A. Venturi, Il Museo e la Galleria Borghese, Roma 1893, p. 114
  • J.A. Crowe, G.B. Cavalcaselle, A History of Painting in North Italy, Londra 1897 (ed. 1912), III, p. 50
  • G. Morelli (I. Lemorlieff), Della pittura italiana. Studi storico critici. La Galleria Borghese e Doria Pamphili, Milano 1897, p. 216
  • J. von Schlosser, Jupiter und die Tugend, Ein Gemälde des Dosso Dossi, in “Jahrbuch der Preußischen Kunstsammlungen”, 21, 1900, p. 269
  • U. Monneret de Villard, Giorgione da Castelfranco, Bergamo 1904, p. 140
  • B. Berenson, The North Italian Painters of the Renaissance, New York 1907, p. 210
  • L. Venturi, Giorgione e il giorgionismo, Milano 1913, pp. 279-280
  • H. Mendelsohn, Das Werk der Dossi, Monaco 1914, pp. 79-80
  • G. Cantalamessa, Davide, Saul o Astolfo, in “Bollettino d’Arte”, II, 1922, pp. 37 ric-43
  • A. Venturi, Storia dell’Arte italiana, IX, 3, Milano 1928, p. 977
  • R. Longhi, Officina ferrarese, Roma 1934, p. 149
  • B. Berenson, Pitture italiane del Rinascimento: catalogo dei principali artisti e delle loro opere con un indice dei luoghi, Milano 1936, p. 151
  • G.M. Richter, Giorgio da Castelfranco, called Giorgione, Chicago 1937, p. 318
  • C. Sterling, Notes breves sur quelques tableaux vénitiens inconnus à Dallas, in “Arte veneta”, VIII, 1954, pp. 52-27
  • P. Della Pergola, La Galleria Borghese. I Dipinti, I, Roma 1955, pp. 34-35 n. 43
  • R. Longhi, Nuovi Ampliamenti (1940-1955), in Opere complete di Roberto Longhi, V, Firenze 1956, p. 88
  • L. Baldass, Zur Erforschung des "Giorgionismo" bei den Generationsgenossen Tizians, Vienna 1961, pp. 51, 87-88, 170
  • F. Gibbons, Dosso and Battista Dossi Court Painters at Ferrara, Princeton 1968, p. 259
  • T. Pignatti, Giorgione, Venezia 1969, p. 149 n. 31
  • A. Ballarin in Le siecle de Titien: l'âge d'or de la peinture a Venise, catalogo della mostra (Parigi, Grand Palais 9 marzo - 14 giugno 1993) a cura di G. Fage, Parigi, Réunion des Musées Nationaux, 1993, pp. 291 fig. 12, 294
  • C. Stefani, in Galleria Borghese, a cura di P. Moreno e C. Stefani, Milano 2000, p. 249
  • K. Herrmann Fiore, in Il museo senza confini. Dipinti ferraresi del Rinascimento nelle raccolte romane, a cura di J. Bentini e S. Guarino, Milano 2002, pp. 154-155, scheda 15
  • A. Ballarin, Giorgione e l’umanesimo veneziano, con la collaborazione di L. De Zuani, S. Ferrari e M. Menegatti, "Pittura del Rinascimento nell'Italia settentrionale, 10", 7 voll., Verona dell’Aurora, 2016, pp. I, 122, 238, 290, 367, 435, 708, 735; II, 1033
  • L. Pericolo in C. C. Malvasia, Felsina pittrice. Lives of the Bolognese Painters. Life of Guido Reni, a cura di L. Pericolo, 2 volumi, London-Turnhout 2019, I, pp. 430-431 nota 640