1569 – Rome – 1626

David returning triumphant with the head of Goliath

Oil on canvas
142.5 x 197.5 cms [56 by 77 ¾ inches]


Principi De Ferrari, Palazzo de Ferrari, Genoa

“Roma e Siena: Echi e opera. Raffaello e Caravaggio al centro di un rapporto millenario”  Palazzo Squarcialupi, Siena, Nov 2005- Feb 2006


According to Baglione the artist was given the name Antiveduto (“foreseen”) because his father had a premonition that he would be soon be born during a journey between his native Siena and Rome. It was in Rome that Antiveduto was baptised, raised and based his career. His apprenticeship with the Perugian artist Giovanni Domenico Angelini introduced him to small-scale works, mostly on copper. He gained the nickname “gran Capocciante” because he specialised in painting heads of famous men. A decade later, in 1591, Antiveduto set up as an independent artist.

Grammatica’s earliest surviving public commission, an old-fashioned configuration depicting Christ the Saviour with St. Stanislaus of Krakow, St. Adalbert of Prague and St. Hyacinth Odrowaz, was painted for the high altar of San Stanislao dei Polacchi. Characterized by Giulio Mancini as most zealous in his profession, Antiveduto began his association with the Accademia di San Luca in 1593. He gained great familiarity with the two protectors of the Academy, Cardinals Federico Borromeo and Francesco Maria Del Monte, and was closely attached to the latter; so much that he was elected to the highest office of the association as “principe” in 1624. Shortly after this, however, he became embroiled in scandal. The machinations of Grammatica’s enemy Tommaso Salini over the attempt to sell off the Accademia’s altarpiece, thought to be by Raphael, brought about a humiliating retreat, when Cardinal Del Monte intervened to re-establish the constitution of the institution.  His fortunes were in a way linked with the Cardinal himself, who was much frowned upon by the Barberini, and his death preceded that of Del Monte by four months, in April 1626.

This rediscovered  work is a masterpiece of early Seicento Roman painting. The half figure format and strong chiaroscuro echo the innovative changes Caravaggio spearheaded in pictorial format and style. This is hardly surprising for, according to Bellori, Caravaggio had worked in Grammatica’s studio early in his career and was to share the patronage of the two great benefactors of the Roman Baroque – Del Monte and the Marchese Vincenzo Giustiniani. The flowing interwoven composition of the dancing Israelite women is of such high quality it must have been greatly admired by the other great early Seicento protagonists of the Caravaggesque half-length composition – Guido Reni, Domenichino and Simon Vouet. The subtle tonality of shading on these faces is of a level rarely achieved by Antiveduto elsewhere, and echoes that of Raphael’s Santa Cecilia with Santi Paolo, Giovanni, Agostino and Maria Maddalena in Pinacoteca Nazionale, Bologna and Caravaggio’s Fortune Teller in the Capitoline Museum, Rome.

In the background Grammatica has indicated the walls of Jerusalem from which the Israelite women emerge celebrating  – the subject was always thought to be a prefiguration of Christ’s entry into Jerusalem. With the distant view of the Bethlehem and the Vale of Elah where the Philistines fought the Israelites, the figures form a frieze not unlike the Triumphs that were so admired on the Roman arches of Constantine and Titus, a monumental epitome of the story.  The artist was most successful with themes where many women were portrayed, as he is recorded in the 1619 correspondence with the Duke of Mantua (A. Luzio, La Galleria dei Gonzaga venduta all’ Inghilterra nel 1627-28, 1913, p. 292), where he was about to execute some Stories of Samson together with Giovanni Baglione. His variety of female heads is equally felicitous in the nine Muses in the Parnassus thought to have been done for Cardinal Del Monte (Private collection, Turin; G. Papi, Antiveduto della Grammatica, 1995, Pl. XXVIII, No. 63), and in works like Judith and Holofernes in Stockholm. The larger dimensions of the present work suggest an equally important destination, but although the original canvas, unlined until recently, bears a Seicento inventory number ‘186’  it has yet to  be associated with its first owner. Vincenzo Giustiniani in 1638 owned a painting by Grammatica  of the Triumph of David (L. Salerno, ‘The Picture Gallery of Vincenzo Giustiniani…’ Burlington Magazine, 1960, p. 97), but it was much smaller than the present work (4 by 3 palmi, or about 90 by 67 cms). It is possible that this piece was done for Cardinal Del Monte, for although the 1627 inventory published by C.L. Frommel in 1971 (Storia dell’Arte, 1971) covers the items from Palazzo Avogadro and the Casino del Monte on the Pincio, it does not have the description of those works presumed to be still in Palazzo Madama at the time of the Cardinal’s death in 1626. Equally, the patronage of the Royal house of Savoy in Turin was important for Grammatica later in the 1620s, for a series of ten paintings of Apollo and the Nine Muses was described in 1635 (G. Papi, 1995, p. 119/20) of which two Muses are in Palazzo Chiablese in Turin.

The painting is one of the most successful of Grammatica’s compositions, embracing the realism of Caravaggio’s style with the monumentality and presence of Domenichino’s work in Rome in the second decade of the century. The celebration of Domenichino’s wife’s features in the Scenes of Santa Cecilia in the Cappella Polet in San Luigi dei Francesi (1613/15), and the Hunt of Diana appropriated by Scipione Borghese in 1616/17 is matched by Grammatica’s self-assurance in the group of Israelites, their gestures, costumes and musical instruments. Domenichino too was interested in musical instruments, and seems to recall Grammatica’s variety in the scenes of the Triumph of David that he would do in San Silvestro al Quirinale for Cardinal Bandini in 1629/30. Altogether the self-confidence of the Triumph of David suggests that it must date from the period of Grammatica’s dominance of the Roman scene, when he was the leading figure in the Academy of St Luke and the intimate of great patrons like Del Monte and Giustiniani.