David and Goliath and Edgar Allen Poe

7:00 AM

Caravaggio David and Goliath, 1605

"Now this is the point. You fancy me mad. Madmen know nothing. But you should have seen me. You should have seen how wisely I proceeded – with what caution – with what foresight – with what dissimulation I went to work! I was never kinder to the old man than during the whole week before I killed him. And every night, about midnight, I turned the latch of his door and opened it – oh so gently! And then, when I had made an opening sufficient for my head, I put in a dark lantern, all closed, closed, that no light shone out, and then I thrust in my head. Oh, you would have laughed to see how cunningly I thrust it in! I moved it slowly – very, very slowly, so that I might not disturb the old man's sleep. It took me an hour to place my whole head within the opening so far that I could see him as he lay upon his bed. Ha! would a madman have been so wise as this." – Edgar Allan Poe, Tell Tale Heart

Caravaggio, a master of dark and light, creates a few portraits of David killing Goliath. I have seen this painted many times, seen the sexy sculpture of David by Donatello and paintings that display a young boy overcoming his fear. Of course, the picture here is much different. We see David holding Goliath's head, or rather Caravaggio's head, with his stale, emotionless face. The agony in the face shows his life ripped away from him so suddenly and almost as if he didn't deserve it. But we know from the story that Goliath was no saint, and neither was Caravaggio. 


What strikes me most, and reminded me of Poe's Tell Tale Heart, was obviously the meticulous nature of David and the killer in Poe's story. David looks as if he does this sort of thing for a living, and the methodology of the killer plus his excitement makes these characters a bit more than creepy Granted, Poe and Caravaggio had a particular dark taste in their works, but the combination of these go particularly well together for me. They make me uneasy because people don't simply kill for sport if they aren't getting paid or have some serious troubles. Caravaggio paints the suffering it causes him, but we lose the intensity in David's face which makes the murder less personal and more terrifying. The same way – or even the worse way – the excitement the killer has to tell his story, explain the murder in full, because he is proud of his work. 


Edgar Allan Poe and Caravaggio were both masters of dark and light. Caravaggio can use the darkness in his paintings to help illuminate emotion and pain. In his particular story, Poe uses a the lighter tone of the killer to make Tell Tale Heart so riveting and horrifying.      

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