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David

king saul’s christian david’s

David was the king of Israel around c.1000 B.C. His significance in both Jewish and Christian tradition is reflected in his prominent position in the visual arts. Scenes from the life of David appear in all media from the early Christian through late Gothic period. He appears in narrative cycles, frequently as an independent figure in illustrated manuscripts prefacing the Psalms (which he is credited with composing), in cycles of the Old Testament *ancestors of *Christ , and as one of the Nine Worthies


David, the son of Jesse, is introduced in 1 Samuel 16:11-13 during the reign of King *Saul. *God instructed the prophet *Samuel to find and anoint the shepherd boy David as the next king. David was summoned to Saul’s court and served as Saul’s musician and armor bearer. His harp playing relieved Saul’s melancholy. Although Saul relied upon David greatly, his jealousy was activated shortly after David defeated the Philistine giant *Goliath and as David became increasingly prominent at the court. David’s friendship with Saul’s son *Jonathan, and his marriage to Saul’s daughter Michal, further fueled Saul’s endemic suspicions that David was his rival for the throne, although David remained ostensibly loyal to the king and continued to prove himself as a heroic warrior in the ongoing conflicts between the Israelites and the Philistines. Saul several times attempted to murder or have David murdered, resulting in increased animosity between them and in David’s flight from court and life as an outlaw and independent military leader. When Saul and several of his sons were killed in a battle with the Philistines, David mourned greatly and angrily executed the Amalekite messenger who had brought the news. David and his nephew *Joab then went to war against Saul’s son Ishbaal and Saul’s former commander Abner; when both Ishbaal and Abner were assassinated, David was eventually anointed as king of Israel in c.1000 B.C. He established his capital at Jerusalem, was victorious in further conflicts with the Philistines, brought the *Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem, and extended his empire with further military campaigns. It was during one of these wars that David became enamored of *Bathsheba, the wife of his comrade Uriah. David’s successful plot to cause Uriah’s *death (so as to marry Bathsheba) began a series of troubles (articulated to David by the prophet *Nathan). Conflicts between David’s sons (by several wives) resulted in the rape of his daughter Tamar, the death of his sons *Absalom and Adonijah, and the eventual anointing of David and Bathsheba’s son *Solomon as the next king.


Scenes from the life of David appear in Christian art as early as the third century and throughout the Middle Ages. Detailed narrative cycles are found in seventh-century metalwork and in Bible illustrations of the Romanesque and Page 64  Gothic periods. Specific episodes (the battle with Goliath; David as a youthful shepherd rescuing a lamb from the jaws of a lion, 1 Samuel 17:34-37; David as harpist; David as an enthroned king; David watching Bathsheba bathing) frequently also appear as independent subjects.


David often appears in Psalter illustration as a harpist and author of the Psalms. He frequently appears in prefatory miniatures (alone or accompanied by dancers and other musicians) and within historiated initials marking the major divisions of the Psalms. For example, at Psalm 26 (27) he entreats God to open his eyes; at Psalm 68 (69) he is shown kneeling or standing in water requesting God’s deliverance; at Psalm 80 (81) he praises God by playing on bells, or a harp, or dancing before the Ark of the Covenant.


The rich iconography of David in Christian art presents him in many guises: from a youthful shepherd, victorious warrior, to a troubled, reflective, aged, and triumphant king.

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