David and Goliath

Workshop of Francesco Fanelli Italian

On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 542

David surmounts Goliath and, bracing one knee on his shoulder, pulls the giant’s head back by the hair as his sword arm stretches to its apogee for the death blow. Goliath is half-risen from the ground, mouth agape, eyes wide but unfocused, with the stone that felled him still “sunke into his forehead” (1 Samuel 17:49). The dynamic pyramidal group is known in only one comparable example, formerly in the Gustave de Rothschild collection, which was illustrated by Wilhelm von Bode and is sometimes confused with our bronze.[1] A smaller and more summary version in the Pushkin Museum, Moscow, represents a later generation of the model.[2] The composition has been attributed to Baccio Bandinelli and Vincenzo de’ Rossi, and more generally called Florentine from the decades around 1600.[3] Anthony Radcliffe first raised the possibility of a connection to Francesco Fanelli in the late 1980s, when the artist’s biography and oeuvre were coming into sharper focus, and Patricia Wengraf has since sustained the attribution and made persuasive comparisons with the Mercury and Cupid (cat. 92).[4]

In harsh judgment of the Rothschild version, which he employed as a foil to Giambologna’s prowess, Bode described the David and Goliath as “little more than a meaningless tour de force, [whose] composition and treatment of form are devoid of taste, even of artistic feeling . . .”[5] We might mitigate such an assessment today and, in light of new knowledge of the artist, place the Linsky David and Goliath among the more inventive compositions and highly finished bronzes to have come from the Fanelli workshop. Unlike most of the artist’s single figures and groups,[6] the David and Goliath successfully composes from more than one point of view. In this, it is similar only to the Mercury and Cupid and the most complex of his equestrian battle groups.

The model was probably made in England in the mid-1630s, after Fanelli had moved there from Genoa. He may have been summoned to execute bronze tomb sculptures for aristocratic patrons, and was retained by Charles I by 1632. In England, he seems to have found success quickly with his statuettes, which were collected widely among the upper tiers of society.[7] David Howarth, citing Abraham van der Doort’s 1639 inventory of the royal collection, observed that a David and Goliath was displayed on a windowsill in the Chair Room of Whitehall Palace along with some of Charles I’s finest small bronzes and cabinet paintings.[8] Considered in an English context, Fanelli’s choice of composition gains in significance. The group acts out verbatim key passages from the King James translation of the Bible (1611), a recent publication at that time. “David ran and stood upon the Philistine, and tooke his sword, and drewe it out of the sheath, and slew him, and cut off his head therewith” (1 Samuel 17:51). Eschewing the victorious David more frequently represented by Italian artists (from Donatello and Mantegna to Caravaggio), Fanelli chose a moment at the height of action, after David had brought the giant to the ground with his stone and “stood upon” him, sword in hand, to deliver the death blow.[9]

Though the high quality of the cast likely indicates that our David and Goliath was made later than the works Fanelli himself produced in the 1630s, it is illustrative of an aesthetic of finish that unites the bronzes he was directly involved in making with those produced from his models subsequently in the workshop.[10] It exhibits a Florentine innovation for making repairs and unifying the surface—threaded bronze plugs fill the holes left by casting flaws and the removal of core pins. Though it may have developed earlier, the “screw plug” was perfected in the years around 1600, probably by Antonio Susini, and is now considered a hallmark of the grand-ducal bronze workshops and of the refined surfaces of statuettes that issued from Giambologna’s immediate followers (see, e.g., cat. 137). If the technique had been developed by the turn of the century, Fanelli could have learned it in the 1590s when he was in Florence apprenticed to Giovanni Bandini or shortly thereafter.[11] If the technique had not yet developed by the time Fanelli left Florence (by 1605), he might have studied the Giambologna bronzes in Charles I’s collection, reverse-engineering the technique. A number of statuettes made in Giambologna’s workshop a few years after his death were sent to Henry, prince of Wales, in 1612, and passed at his death later that year to his brother Charles.[12]

The screw plugs at first seem at odds with how Fanelli’s facture is often characterized, that is, as deliberately lacking in attention to surface detail. The statuettes almost never exhibit cold-working to strengthen lines or forms; surface details are all translated from the wax. On many casts, fissures and gaps in the surface—casting flaws—are not plugged with metal.[13] While today’s response to this type of facture can be subdued, if not outright critical, in the seventeenth century, north of the Alps, Fanelli’s technique was praised precisely for the fact that he knew how to cast “metal images . . . so as to make them clean . . . so that it was not necessary to help the model further with carving or filing,” and his statuettes possessed qualities that made them desirable to a king and to fellow artists alike.[14] Joachim von Sandrart, who himself owned “quite a few” of Fanelli’s statuettes, wrote some years after the artist’s death of the thinness of his casts and the absence of visible cold work, praising them as signs of virtuosity.[15] In the David and Goliath, the lack of cold work, or the closeness of the finished bronze to its wax model, draws attention to itself. While the hair of both figures consists of massed bunches in deep relief, there are no indications of chasing. Perhaps most tellingly, rows of furrows made with a tool in the wax to delineate the separation of forms were left where Goliath’s thigh and buttocks meet the ground. The marks could have been easily smoothed with a hot knife before investing the model. Instead, they are left as a flourish to call attention to the origin of the bronze in its wax model. The screw plugs in the David and Goliath, though a significant intervention after the casting, serve to strengthen the appearance of an unchased—yet highly finished—cast; even today, the plugs remain almost invisible and the extent of their use only becomes apparent in radiographs. It could be that Fanelli’s waxy, “clean” surfaces, lacking in cold-working, were part of an aesthetic that he promoted during his lifetime, or at least that he was aware possessed a certain cachet. In his most important commissions, he took steps to preserve this quality, even while improving the finish of the cast (see cat. 92).

James David Draper, whose assessment of the group’s facture led him to look outside Italy for the origins of the bronze group, broached a Northern connection by tracing the composition in eighteenth-century England.16 That we now know Fanelli’s David and Goliath was a prized sculpture in England in the 1630s helps to explain its continued resonance there, alongside the more canonical compositions of Giambologna, into the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

(For key to shortened references see bibliography in Allen, Italian Renaissance and Baroque Bronzes in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. NY: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2022.)

1. Current location unknown; see Bode and Draper 1980, pl. 220. Liebmann (Androsov et al. 1988, p. 66) and Draper (Bode and Draper 1980, p. 107) mistakenly conflated the two bronzes, the latter correcting himself soon after our group came into the public eye (Linsky 1984, p. 157 n. 1). ‘
2. Androsov et al. 1988, pp. 65–66, no. 30; the Moscow bronze is almost 10 cm shorter than our example and rests on a smooth rectangular bronze plinth, probably of later manufacture.
3. Valentiner 1955 (to Bandinelli); Pope-Hennessy 1963b (to de’ Rossi); Bode 1907–12, vol. 3, pl. CCXX (as “Italian Master, about 1570”); Bode and Draper 1980, p. 107 (as “possibly Florentine, 17th century”); Draper in Linsky 1984, p. 156 (as “16th-century Florentine”).
4. Correspondence in ESDA/OF; Howarth 1989, p. 112 n. 135; Wengraf 2004, pp. 36, 39.
5. Bode and Draper 1980, p. 72.
6. For example, Venus, Adonis and Cupid, V&A, A.96-1956 (Howarth 1989, p. 100); most of the Saint George groups; and even the ubiquitous Galloping Horse statuettes, for which see cat. 95. 7. Stock 2004; Wengraf 2004; Schmidt 2004.
8. Howarth 1989, pp. 99, 112 n. 135.
9. The outstanding Renaissance depiction prefiguring Fanelli’s narrative choice is Michelangelo’s on the Sistine ceiling.
10. Radiographs indicate that the group was cast in one piece, with thin, even walls and very little porosity. A plaster core was held in place with multiple transfixing core pins, and wax-to-wax joins were limited to the joins between the figures. R. Stone/TR, June 22, 2011.
11. Wengraf 2004, p. 31.
12. Watson and Avery 1973.
13. See, for example, cats. 95 and 96, although it is possible these were originally filled with a less durable material, like wax.
14. Sandrart 1925, p. 235.
15. Ibid.
16. Linsky 1984, pp. 156–57.
17. The dimensions of the bronze listed in Abraham van der Doort’s 1639 inventory, 18 x 10 in. (45.7 x 25.4 cm), are essentially those of the present bronze. See the related entry in The Lost Collection of Charles I, at https://lostcollection.rct.uk/collection/david-and-goliath-little-full-length. However, recent analysis of the facture of Fanelli’s Mercury and Cupid suggests that the present bronze is a later cast from the Whitehall Palace model; see cat. 92.
18. See https://lostcollection.rct.uk/collection/david-and-goliath-little-full-length for information from the 1972 Walpole Society transcription of Charles I’s posthumous sale inventories.

David and Goliath, Workshop of Francesco Fanelli (Italian, born Florence 1577, active Genoa (1605–30) and England (1632–39)), Bronze, England, composition modeled in the 1630s

Due to rights restrictions, this image cannot be enlarged, viewed at full screen, or downloaded.

Open Access

As part of the Met's Open Access policy, you can freely copy, modify and distribute this image, even for commercial purposes.


Public domain data for this object can also be accessed using the Met's Open Access API.