1810 - 1890
David with the Head of Goliath

Oil on canvas, dated ‘1850’ lower right on sword strap
Image size: 33 ½ x 23 ½ inches
Gilt Watts frame

This striking painting, depicts David as a young boy holding behind his back the head of the champion of the Philistines, the giant Goliath, by the hair. The light catches on David’s chest, arm and face, on the massive sword hilt of Goliath and the young tree behind, but everything else is quite dark.  The two trees obviously represent David and Goliath, with the old larger tree dead and the green younger tree full of light and vigorous youth.

We see a very young courtier, a flamboyant youth of dazzling beauty and with a touch of arrogant defiance on his face. David is shown with his shepherds bag and stick, but also he holds a magnificently decorated but very heavy sword, given to him by King David. This sword evokes in the viewer the impression that the boy might have a great calling. David would indeed become the great warrior and king, the founder of the royal glory of Israel.

For a work painted in 1850 it has quite a surreal and modern feel to it and with its attention to detail you can see why he influenced the Pre Raphaelites.

The Artist:
John Rogers Herbert was born 23 January 1810 at Maldon in Essex.  The family had enough money to send young Herbert to London when he was sixteen years old; and he was enrolled in the Royal Academy schools in December 1826. After the death of his father in 1828, Herbert was forced to give up the Academy school and began painting professionally – mostly book illustrations and portraiture. However, sketches from as early as 1829, such as Captives predict his later interest in larger historical subjects with challenging moral themes and complex compositions.

His first exhibit at the Royal Academy was in 1830, Portrait of a Country Boy.

Later in the decade, Herbert, like many of his contemporaries, displayed a growing interest in medievalism. One reason for this may be his friendship with A.W.N.Pugin who would become the co-architect of the Palace of Westminster and a proponent of medieval revival. Herbert and Pugin had known each other from childhood, and were very close, intimately involved in each other’s affairs.

At the age of 28 Herbert was already a success even painting a portrait of Princess Victoria in 1834. In 1841 Herbert was elected an Associate of the Royal Academy, and became a full member in 1846.

Herbert was a prolific teacher of art. In 1841 he became ‘master of the figure’ in the newly formed Government School of Design, a position probably owed to his artist friend William Dyce who was superintendent there, and with whom he collaborated in the illustration of Nursery Rhymes, Tales and Jingles.

Herbert was earnest and methodical in both his subjects and his technique. Evidence of this earnest practice can be found in the extensive research Herbert undertook for many of his paintings. He travelled to the East many times to paint the landscape, clothing and architecture of the area, in order to add authenticity to his biblical scenes.

Herbert’s innovative techniques, borrowing from mediaeval, German and Nazarene art influenced the young Herbert’s innovative techniques, borrowing from mediaeval, German and Nazarene art influenced the young Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. He instructed all the young members of the Brotherhood during their sojourn at the Royal Academy Schools, he gave personal support to James Collinson, and perhaps other members, during the formation of the Brotherhood, and was even a potential proprietor of The Germ. Yet, when W.M. Rossetti declared they wished to ‘out-Herbert Herbert’ he had more aesthetic and theoretical considerations in mind. The Pre-Raphelites drew on Herbert’s historical subjects of the 1840s for inspiration, and his influence can be especially seen in their early pictures.