Caravaggio’s Use of Catharsis

As an art student with an Art History minor, I have learned quite a lot about the artist Caravaggio. For my Global Baroque class I was asked to analyze a Caravaggio painting with some fellow students.

The painting was paired with a reading regarding some background of the piece. The piece I was assigned to analyze was David with the head of Goliath. Not only is this piece visually stunning, but it also has a very interesting background.

This piece was created toward the end of Caravaggio’s life as he was dying of malaria. Before creating this work, Caravaggio was fleeing from Rome because he murdered a man, which is something he felt great guilt about. Although there was a possibility he would be pardoned in Rome, he always felt remorse regarding his deed. What makes this information interesting in regard to the work is the fact that Caravaggio used this piece as an act of catharsis. He took the emotions he had about killing a man and projected it onto the story of David and Goliath. David was a young boy who killed a large man who was trying to take over his city. Typically, David and Goliath scenes show the young David looking proud and smug about his deed, but in this work we can see the pain that David feels about taking another man’s life. David is the representation of innocence and guilt. Caravaggio used his own face as Goliath to show the guilt and hatred he felt towards himself for commiting the act. This is just another instance of someone using art as a means of portraying their truest, inner emotions. 

Image: David with the head of Goliath, Caravaggio, 1610,_Rome)

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