This is a hitherto unrecorded version of one of Fetti's most popular compositions that took shape during the early years of his career in Mantua (1614-22). Fetti trained in Rome under Andrea Commodi and then Ludovico Cigoli. While studying he became acquainted with Fernando Gonzaga, then a cardinal in Rome, who invited the artist to work in his court as soon as he became the 6th Duke of Mantua in 1613.
The prime treatment of the David is generally considered to be the picture in the Gemäldegalerie, Dresden, for which there is a related drawing in an Italian private collection (see E. Safarik, Fetti, Milan, 1990, pp. 45-6, nos. 7 and 7a). Professor Edourd Safarik has remarked how its style and colouring bears the influence of Rubens who had preceeded Fetti at the Gonzaga court. Safarik (loc. cit.) records fifteen versions, and in accordance with his firmly held view that the artist never personally repeated himself, he ascribes all to the workshop or later followers. This includes the picture in the Royal Collection that was almost certainly amongst the purchases made by Charles I in the Gonzaga sale in 1627 (see the catalogue of the exhibition The Art of Italy in the Royal Collection - Renaissance & Baroque, 2007, no. 100). The present work conforms closely to the slightly larger Dresden composition (canvas, 160 x 120 cm.). Much confusion abounds as to the status of versions of many of Fetti's compositions and there is no doubt that the artist ran an unusually busy studio. He established this practice in Mantua and is known to have employed his father Pietro, whose painting style was similar to his own, as well as his sister. Other painters documented there were Monsù Michel (identifiable as the Burgundian artist Michele Mattei), Giovanni Battista Barca, Dionisio Guerri and Camillo Motta.
Safarik, to whom we are grateful, considers this one of the highest quality versions, attributable in the main part to one of the artist's assistants (written communication, 2008, judging from photographs). However, noting certain passages that accord with Fetti's own rapid brushwork and innate ability to render light, Safarik does suggest that Fetti may have had a hand in it's execution: '...vista l'eleveta qualità pittorica non escluderei alcuni interveni corretivi del Fetti stesso. Sono tipicamente fettiane ad esempio le piccole pennellate sciolte nella mano che regge la spada, i leggerissimi tratti nel paesaggio sull'orizzonte a sinistra che differisce dall'esemplare di Dresda e sopratutto l'eccellente resa del cielo striato di nuvole che ricorda quello adoperato sullo sfondo di alcune parabole'.