Rome, c. 1589 – Venice, 1623
The Young David Gathering Stones for his Slingshot
Oil on canvas, 43 5/16 x 32¼ in (110 x 82 cm)
The young shepherd David, future King and author of the Psalms, gathers some stones – and his thoughts, it seems – before the momentous combat that will change his life and that of his fellow-Israelites. Although the Biblical narrative (I Samuel, chapter 18) does describe him preparing his slingshot before defeating the Philistine Goliath, the episode is extremely rarely represented in art, compared with the “Victorious David”, a subject Fetti himself painted multiple times (see, for example, the version in the Gallerie dell’Accademia, Venice). Most striking, perhaps, is the ruddy or tawny hair of the young man, although this too is mentioned in the Scriptures: David appears as rufus in Latin, fulvo di capelli in Italian, as the artist would have known.
The beautifully-described riverbed, bright sunlight and plumed cap contribute to the distinctive pictorial qualities of this work, and the evocation of David’s decisiveness, combined with vulnerability, adds to the quiet drama of the moment. The rich, confident depiction of pebbles, pouch and cord in the foreground creates a notable passage of still-life painting in itself, entirely characteristic of Fetti. Nicholas Turner confirms the attribution to the artist and dates this canvas to between 1617 and 1619, a few years before the end of his short life, when he was employed as court painter to Vincenzo Gonzaga, Duke of Mantua. The most recent monographic treatment of Fetti’s career is the catalogue of the exhibition in Mantua, 1996, edited by Eduard A. Safarik.