Italian cassoni, or wedding chests, were typically commissioned as pairs by a groom to honor his bride. Over time, many of these lavishly decorated pieces of furniture were separated from each other, and in most cases, their painted panels were removed from their frames. The present panel constitutes a rare example of a cassone panel for which the original pendant has survived. Ellen Callmann (loc. cit.) first linked this representation of The slaying of Goliath with another panel representing David Triumphant, formerly in the collection of Sir Frederick Cook, London. This latter panel is inset into what is probably a nineteenth-century cassone along with testate (end panels) representing Hercules and the Lernaean Hydra and Hercules saving Deianeira from Nessus, which sold at Christie's, London, on 8 December 2005, lot 23. At the beginning of the twentieth century, Herbert Cook identified the arms on the ends of Sir Frederick Cook's cassone as those of the Carnesecchi and Lanfredi families, and on that basis concluded that the chest was made for the marriage of Giuliano Carnesecchi and Cassandra Lanfredi in 1467 (H. Cook, 'The New Haven Pollaiuolo', Burlington Magazine, IX, 1906, pp. 52-53). Schubring attributed the present panel to the anonymous Anghiari Master (loc. cit.), and in 1992, when it sold at Sotheby's, it was attributed to Bernardo Rosselli by Everett Fahy. Mr. Fahy has recently reassessed this panel, and it now may be recognized as a late work by Scheggia. Unlike his elder brother, Masaccio, Scheggia enjoyed a long and prosperous career. By the time the present panel was painted, he often worked alongside his son, Antonfrancesco, whose hand may possibly be seen in some elements of this composition.
Giuliano Carnesecchi's family was fiercely allied with the Medici, and the choice of subject matter in these panels may reflect this bond. Long associated with this city and its most prominent family, the Medici, the biblical hero David was recognized as a symbol of divinely authorized power, the noble defense of the state and perhaps most importantly, the triumph of the righteous over evil. For this reason, Florence's greatest artists were hired to create public and private works of art celebrating David, most notably Donatello, whose marble statue of the hero was installed in the Palazzo della Signoria in 1416, and Lorenzo Ghiberti, whose gilded bronze relief of The Story of David was installed on the Florentine Baptistry's east door in 1452. The present panel reflects the influence of both of these pivotal sculptures.
Employing continuous narration, Scheggia begins the story in the panel's lower left corner, with the young David tending his flock. To the right, in the middle ground, the young shepherd converses with the bearded King Saul, who wears golden armor and sits astride a black horse. The king gestures toward the Philistine army and their champion, the nine-foot-tall Goliath, who has challenged the Israelites to produce a single man capable of facing him alone in a fight to the death. Saul has not only promised great wealth, but also the hand of his daughter to anyone who can defeat the challenger, and David bravely volunteers to do so in the name of the Lord. In the foreground, Saul's soldiers attempt to provide the boy with armor, which he will reject. In the upper left corner, the king's army rides out of a Tuscan walled city. The domed building just inside the gate would have been instantly recognizable to the educated Quattrocento viewer as the Temple of Jerusalem. In the central middle ground, surrounded by mounted soldiers with lances, swords and bows, David meets Goliath on the battlefield. Armed only with a sling, the boy is shown in the act of drawing back to cast his stone as the towering figure of Goliath, dressed in fanciful armor, raises his scimitar. In the center foreground, the story concludes with the triumphant David grasping the fallen giant's hair as he prepares to decapitate him.
Scheggia took delight in representing the Israelites' and Philistines' exotic costumes and the courtly animals in golden collars that populate the foreground, most notably the dog and leopard, who gaze out at the viewer. As is the case with the contemporary cassone panel of the Story of David and Goliath, painted by Francesco Pesellino for the Medici circa 1445-1455 (National Gallery, London), the entire scene is set in the rolling hills of the Tuscan countryside, which would have made this impressive story of valor all the more immediate to the contemporary Quattrocento Florentine viewer.
Please note that the present work is being offered for sale pursuant to a settlement agreement between the current owner and the heirs of Geheimrat Ottmar Strauss. This settlement agreement resolves the dispute over ownership of the work and title will pass to the successful bidder.