The Triumph of David

Performing portable x-ray fluorescence for pigment identification.

Restoration of Villanova’s The Triumph of David [2013-2015]

Seventeenth-century Italian artist Pietro da Cortona’s Triumph of David (also known as The Presentation of David to King Saul after Slaying Goliath, and colloquially as David and Goliath) has hung in the reading room of Villanova University’s Falvey library for more than five decades since the 12’×19’ oil on canvas painting was gifted to the University. The painting first came to the University in the early 1950’s, donated by the late Princess Eugenia Ruspoli.  For much of its life, the Triumph of David hung within the walls of Castle Nemi outside of Rome which was “requisitioned” by the Italian government and “turned over” to the German Luftwaffe during World War II. Her family would later claim that the Nazis looted and/or destroyed “over a million dollars in art treasures, paintings and the like and only five pictures were salvaged.”  The castle sustained significant damages during the Battle for Rome in World War II which may partly explain the current condition of the painting.  Pietro Berrettini da Cortona was perhaps best known for his work as an architect, however the artist and his workshop executed several exquisite fresco cycles in addition to a number of canvas paintings.  As only a hand-full of Pietro’s canvas paintings can be found in museum collections, the University made a concerted effort to restore the artwork and promote collaborative research among art historians, conservators, and scientists. Like many older works, the painting became discolored and degraded by over-paint and varnish from previous restoration campaigns.  To restore this important work and bring back the vibrant colors, Villanova University commissioned a 2-year restoration with conservators from The University of Delaware Art Conservation Department that was completed in September 2015.  Together with faculty and researchers from Villanova’s Department of Chemistry and Art History, this interdisciplinary team has restored and scientifically analyzed the painting to trace its history and learn more about the artist’s materials and methods. An exciting aspect of the project involved the collaborative efforts of scholars, faculty, staff members, and students.  In the fall of 2016, the renovation of Old Falvey’s reading room was completed and the restored painting was placed back on display.


Funding: The Kress Foundation “Using Technical, Collaborative, and Digital Means to Promote the Conservation of Pietro da Cortona’s David and Goliath“, Funding period: 9/2014-12/2015, Amount: $24,000.