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Francesco Pesellino, The Story of David and Goliath

Key facts
Full title The Story of David and Goliath
Artist Francesco Pesellino
Artist dates 1422 - 1457
Series Story of David Panels from a Pair of Cassoni (?)
Date made about 1445-55
Medium and support Tempera on wood
Dimensions 45.5 × 179.2 cm
Acquisition credit Bought with the assistance of the Art Fund and a number of gifts in wills, 2000
Inventory number NG6579
Location Gallery D
Collection Main Collection
The Story of David and Goliath
Francesco Pesellino

This long and fantastically detailed painting is a precious survivor of Renaissance interior decoration – and it gives us an idea of just how spectacular this could be. It is one of a pair telling the story of David, King of Israel, who started life as a shepherd boy but rose to fame and fortune through killing the giant Goliath.

In the centre we see David, in pink, swinging his sling, taking aim at the armoured Goliath, whose forehead is already bleeding. In the foreground David beheads the fallen giant. The complex composition is linked by the stream: it flows from left to right, in and out of the panel, joining the most important incidents.

The painting, together with its pair also in the National Gallery’s collection, were doubtless made to commemorate a marriage, possibly of a member of the Medici, the ruling family of fifteenth-century Florence.

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Story of David Panels from a Pair of Cassoni (?)


There’s so much going on in these pictures that it’s hard to make out the story. Battles and parades, knights and nobles, horses, hounds, lions, bears and giants are crammed in a flowery Tuscan landscape. Although it looks like a fairy tale set in medieval Italy, the story comes from the Bible and tells how a brave shepherd boy, David, married a princess after defeating a giant, Goliath.

The long shape of each painting is due to their original function. They would probably have been set into the panelling of a private room, possibly over a chest. We don't know exactly who they were made for, but emblems associated with the Medici, the ruling family of Florence in the fifteenth century, are shown on some of the clothing. They might have been made for a Medici marriage.