Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Samuel Discovers and Anoints David

Jean Fouquet, David Anointed by Samuel
From Le Livre de Jehan Bocace des cas des nobles hommes et femmes
French, 1458
Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek
MS Cod. gall. 6, fol. 46v

"How long will you grieve for Saul,
whom I have rejected as king of Israel?
Fill your horn with oil, and be on your way.
I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem,
for I have chosen my king from among his sons."
But Samuel replied:
"How can I go?
Saul will hear of it and kill me."
To this the LORD answered:
"Take a heifer along and say,
'I have come to sacrifice to the LORD.'
Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I myself will tell you what to do;
you are to anoint for me the one I point out to you."

Samuel did as the LORD had commanded him.
When he entered Bethlehem,
the elders of the city came trembling to meet him and inquired,
"Is your visit peaceful, O seer?"
He replied:
"Yes! I have come to sacrifice to the LORD.
So cleanse yourselves and join me today for the banquet."
He also had Jesse and his sons cleanse themselves
and invited them to the sacrifice.
As they came, he looked at Eliab and thought,
"Surely the LORD's anointed is here before him."
But the LORD said to Samuel:
"Do not judge from his appearance or from his lofty stature,
because I have rejected him.
Not as man sees does God see,
because he sees the appearance
but the LORD looks into the heart."
Then Jesse called Abinadab and presented him before Samuel,
who said, "The LORD has not chosen him."
Next Jesse presented Shammah, but Samuel said,
"The LORD has not chosen this one either."
In the same way Jesse presented seven sons before Samuel,
but Samuel said to Jesse,
"The LORD has not chosen any one of these."
Then Samuel asked Jesse,
"Are these all the sons you have?"
Jesse replied,
"There is still the youngest, who is tending the sheep."
Samuel said to Jesse,
"Send for him;
we will not begin the sacrificial banquet until he arrives here."
Jesse sent and had the young man brought to them.
He was ruddy, a youth handsome to behold
and making a splendid appearance.
The LORD said,
"There–anoint him, for this is he!"
Then Samuel, with the horn of oil in hand,
anointed him in the midst of his brothers;
and from that day on, the Spirit of the LORD rushed upon David.
When Samuel took his leave, he went to Ramah.
1 Samuel 16:1-13 (Reading form January 16, 2018)

The majority of Catholics are at least marginally aware that the liturgical calendar currently followed by the church divides the year up into several “seasons”, specifically Advent, Christmas, Lent, the Pascal Triduum, Easter and something rather vaguely called “Ordinary Time”.  These “seasons” relate to both the seasons of the year and the civil calendar year only tangentially.  Thus, Christmas comes on a fixed date at the end of December and lasts into January, while Lent begins on a different date in the winter and concludes in early Spring with the Feast of Easter, which is determined not by a fixed date, but by the spring equinox.

Some may be puzzled by the way in which “Ordinary Time” seems to be chopped up into segments, with the biggest one being the period from the Feast of Corpus Christi, which follows close upon the Feast of Pentecost, running roughly from mid-June until the ultimate or penultimate Sunday in November when the Feast of Christ the King ends the liturgical year.  A new year begins the following Sunday with the first Sunday of Advent.   However, there are a few weeks of Ordinary Time wedged in between Christmas and Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. 1

Nicolaes Maes, Samuel Anointing David
Dutch, c. 1670
Private Collection

It wasn’t always like this.  Prior to the revision of the General Roman Calendar in 1969 there was a period known as “Weeks after Epiphany”, the number of which would vary with the date of Ash Wednesday, being smaller or greater depending on whether Easter (and therefore Lent) was early or late.  There were also three Sundays prior to the beginning of Lent which took their names from the number of days by which they preceded Easter.  There was Septuagesima Sunday (70 days), Sexigesima Sunday (60 days) and Quinquagesima (50 days). 

I was a teenager at the time of the post-Vatican II changes in the Church calendar and, like most teenagers, occupied by the studies and social activities appropriate to my age.  And, again like most teenagers and also most adults, the thing that seemed most striking at the time was, not the change in the calendar but the change in the language.  All through my teens and very early 20s the changes were recurrent, with the Mass being translated in bits, first in language closely aligned to the underlying Latin prayers and then to language of “dynamic equivalence”, which was more conversational sounding.  By my mid-20s the substitution was complete, with not only changes to the Mass but to the administration of the other Sacraments as well.

Caspar Luyken, Samuel Anointing David
Dutch, 1712
Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum

One was also aware of some novelties appearing, such as the handshake of peace, which was an introduction to the laity of a more “contemporary” action to echo the formal clerical kiss of peace.  What one was not so aware of was the reorganization brought about by lumping the Sundays between Epiphany and Lent and the period between Corpus Christi and Advent under the same generic header of “Ordinary Time”. 

At the same time, of course, many saints whose feast days had been celebrated universally, sometimes for centuries, were “demoted”.  Their feast days were reduced to celebration only within a diocese or religious community which was particularly tied to them, or to one or two memorial prayers in the universal Church calendar.  Of course, they were frequently replaced in the universal calendar by more recent saints, but all too often the weekdays became simply “Weekdays”.

I bring this up because reordering the calendar was also done in order to expand the amount of Scripture read in the course of the year.  Prior to the revision, the number of texts, while extensive, was unvarying.  The same readings, associated with the day of the season or with a particular saint, were read year after year.   With the revision, the number of texts was dramatically increased, so that now nearly all of Scripture is read at Mass, following two specific cycles. 

Master of the Flemish Boethius, Scenes from the Lives of Saul and David
From Jewish Antiquities by Flavius Josephus
Flemish (Bruges), 1483
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 12, fol. 165r

The Sunday cycle of readings is a three-year cycle, which means that the Gospels read at most Sunday Masses during  a single year are drawn from the three Synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke.  The Gospel of John is also read, but it interweaves with the cycle for specific days throughout the year.  The years are designated by a simple letter code of A, B and C.  Some Sundays and major feasts have specific Gospels attached to them, which are used across this three-year cycle, being read in all three years.

On weekdays, the readings follow a two-year cycle, which uses a numbered code: Years 1 and 2.  In this way, most of the Bible is read, including both Old and New Testaments, Acts of the Apostles, the Epistles and Revelation over the course of a Sunday cycle (3 years) and a numbered cycle (2 years), which are constantly rotating.  1

I am mentioning all this because it is interesting to note that, as I have been working on this blog at this point for nearly ten years (!) I have been presenting essays on the art inspired by the Bible through three of the Sunday cycles and five of the two-year weekday cycles.  And, because of that, there are recurring themes and stories that I have worked on (and will continue to work on).  You may note that I frequently point toward commentary I have done in previous years over in the right column alongside the current essays. It recently struck me that, as I prepared for today’s essay on Samuel’s discovery and anointing of the young David, I had written about David in what seemed to me to be the very recent past.  Looking through the list of posts I found that it was almost exactly two years ago, January 20, 2016, that I had written about David and Goliath.  And this is why I digressed above into the consideration of the cycles of liturgical readings, for the reading about David and Goliath will recur this year on January 17, 2018.

Compared to the story of David and Goliath, however, images of the story of how Samuel was led to discover David among the sons of Jesse are not as generously distributed.  It does begin very early, however.  

One of the earliest depictions we have comes from the Jewish Synagogue excavated in the town of Dura-Europos in Syria in 1932 and later.  The fact that the Synagogue contained several large painted narrative scenes came as a surprise to everyone, since it had been assumed that Judaism had a complete ban on the painting of images.  It is now understood that it is a more sophisticated and narrow prohibition on painting (or carving) an image of God and that prior Jewish images may lie behind some early Christian paintings. 

Samuel Anoints David
Syrian, c. 240-245
Dura Europos (Syria), Synagogue

The picture from Dura-Europos, dated the middle of the third century AD, depicts Samuel, clad in a tunic and toga resembling that of a Roman senator to indicate his standing, holds an anointing horn over the head of David, while some of David’s brothers look on and indicate their acceptance of his new position.

It is difficult to tell how much material we may be missing from the turbulent centuries of the barbarian invasions and slow retreat of the Roman Empire from both western Europe and their lands in Asia Minor and the territories of Palestine and Syria.  However, in the first half of the seventh century a splendid set of decorative silver plates was made in Constantinople, with the history of David as its subject.  Now in the Metropolitan Museum, the plates represent a series of depictions of episodes from the life of David, including his anointing by Samuel. Samuel and Jesse are distinguished from Jesse’s sons by their longer clothing, imparting greater dignity and from each other by their gestures.

Plate with David Anointed by Samuel
Byzantine (Constantinople), c. 629-630
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Similar scenes appeared in manuscript painting in both the Greek and Latin speaking worlds during the Middle Ages.

Sometimes the images are narrative in character, trying to depict the scene as it is described in the Bible

David Anointed by Samuel (Detail from Scenes from the Life of David)
From Orations of Gregory Nazianzus
Byzantine (Constantinople), c. 879-882
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Grec 510, fol. 174v

Anointing of David by Samuel
From a Psalter with Commentary
Byzantine (Constantinople), c. 950
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Grec 139, fol. 3v

Jesse Presenting His Sons to Samuel and Samuel Anointing David
From the Psalter-Hours of Guiluys de Boisleux
French (Arras), c. 1246-1260
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M 730, fol. 19r

At other times the image is almost schematic, presenting “just the essentials”, that is, the figures of Samuel and David, with occasionally the figure of Jesse.
Ham of Fecamp, Samuel Anointing David
From a Psalter
French, c. 1180
The Hague, Koninklijk Bibliotheek
MS KB 76 F 13, fol. 49v

Samuel Anointing David
From a Psalter
English (Oxford), First Quarter of 13th Century
London, British Library
MS Royal 1 D X, fol. 32r

Samuel Anointing David
From a Bible historiale by Guiard des Moulins
French (Paris), Beginning of 14th Century
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 155, fol. 71r

Queen Mary Master, Samuel Anointing David
From The Queen Mary Psalter
English (London), c. 1310-1320
London, British Library
MS Royal 2 B VII, fol. 214v

Jean Bodol (and Others), Samuel Anointing David
From Grande Bible Historiale Completee
French (Paris), c. 1371-1372
The Hague, Meermano Museum
MS MMW 10 B 23, fol. 131r

Herman Scheerre. Samuel Anointing David
From a Psalter
English (London), c. 1414-1422
London, British Library
MS Additional 42131, fol. 73r

Anointing of David
From Fleur des histoires by Jean Mansel
French, c. 1450-1475
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 55, fol. 54r

Frequently the image is combined with images of other parts of David’s story, for instance, his defense of his sheep in killing a lion or his victory over Goliath.
David Tending Sheep, Killing the Lion and Anointed by Samuel
From a Psalter
English, 1150-1160
London, British Library
MS Cotton Nero C IV

Jesse Presenting David to Samuel and David With the Flock
From Old Testament Miniatures
French (Paris), c. 1250
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M 638, fol. 25v

Master Honore and Assistants, Samuel Anointing David and David Slaying Goliath
From the Breviary of Philippe the Fair
French (Paris), c. 1290-1295
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Latin 1023, fol.  7v

Scenes from the Life of David (David Killing the Lion, Samuel Anointing David, David Slaying Goliath and David Dancing Befrore the Ark
From the Breviary of Martin of Aragon
Spanish (Catalan), c. 1398-1430
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Rothschild 2529, 17v

Master of Jouvenel and Assistants, Scenes from Life of David
From Mare historiarum by John of Cologne
French (Anjou), c. 1447-1445
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Latin 4915, fol. 46v

Sometimes it is conflated with David’s later crowning as king of Israel. 

The Anointing of David As King
From the Westminster Psalter
English (London), c. 1175-1200
Paris,Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Latin 10433, fol. 38r

Samuel Anoints David and David Is Crowned King
From a Picture Bible
French (St. Omer), c. 1190-1200
The Hague, Koninklijk Bibliotheek
MS KB 76 F 5, fol. 43r

The Anointing of David
From a Psalter
French (Amiens), c. 1275-1300
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Latin 10435, fol. 27r

The Anointing of David
From Bible historiale by Guiard des Moulins
French (Paris), Beginning of 15th Century
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 9, fol. 288r

Bible Masters of the First Generation, Anointing of David
From a History Bible
Dutch (Utrecht), c. 1430
The Hague Koninklijk Bibliotheek
MS KB 78 D 381, fol. 167v

In summary, during the Middle Ages, there seems to have been no “template” image for this scene.

With the Renaissance, this changes.  While there is still diversity of presentation, of course, there is now remarkable conformity in composition.  David is now shown as an adolescent or slightly younger boy, knelling before Samuel.  He is almost always seen from the front, so that his face is visible.  Artists make an effort to image the scene in its historic setting, although this appears to be mostly based on their renewed knowledge of Roman art. 

Maarten van Heemskerck, Samuel Anointing David
Dutch, c. 1555
Paris, Musédu Louvre, Cabinet des dessins
Maarten van Heemskerck, Samuel Anointing David
Engraving made from the drawing above
Dutch, c. 1556
Washington, National Gallery of Art
Federico Zuccaro, Samuel Anointing David
Italian, c. 1560-1580
Paris, Musée du Louvre, Cabinet des dessins

In addition to presenting the essential figures, Renaissance and Baroque artists often (although not always) increased the number of figures in attendance to all of David's family and eventually to the entire town of Bethlehem and its surroundings.

Paolo Veronese, Samuel Anointing David
Italian, c. 1555
Vienna, Kunsthistoriisches Museum

Friedrich Sustris, Samuel Anointing David
German, c. 1570-1590
Edinburgh, National Galleries of Scotland

Aegidius Sadeler after a different design by Maarten de Vos, Samuel Anointing David
Flemish, c. 1580-1596
Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum

Karel van Mander, Samuel Anointing David
Dutch, c. 1591
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Copy After Frencesco Salviati, Samuel Anointing David
Italian, 17th Century
Paris, Musée du Louvre

Giovanni Lanfranco after Raphael, Samuel Anointing David
Italian, 1607
Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum

Jan Victors, Samuel Anointing David
Dutch, c. 1645
St. Petersburg, State Hermitage Museum

Jan Lievens, Samuel Anointing David
Dutch, c. 1650-1670
St. Petersburg, State Hermitage Museum

Solomon de Bray, Samuel Anointing David
Dutch, Second Half of the 17th Century
Private Collection

Claude Lorrain, Landscape with Samuel Anointing David
French, c. 1660-1680
Paris, Musée du Louvre

Mattia Preti, Samuel Anointing David
Italian, c. 1670s
Private Collection

Francisco Antolinez y Sarabia, Samuel Anointing David
Spanish, 1685
Private Collection

Johann Georg Platzer, Samuel Anointing David
Austrian, c. 1730-1760
Private Collection

And this continued into the middle of the nineteenth century, when the set subject for the 1842 competition for the extremely prestigious Prix de Rome in history painting, given by the French Royal Academy of Arts, was "Samuel sacrant David".2   All painters who wished to be considered for the Prix de Rome were required to prepare paintings on this set subject.

Francois-Leon Benouville, Samuel Anointing David
French, 1842
Columbus (OH), Museum of Art

The winner was a painter named Victor Biennoury, whose winning painting remained in the Ecole nationale superieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris.

Victor Biennoury, Samuel Anointing David
French, 1842
Paris, Ecole nationale superieure des Beaux-Arts

As with so many of the Biblical scenes that he painted, the later nineteenth-century French painter, James Tissot, returned to a simpler telling of the story in which we are placed in the position of onlookers as Jesse presents his youngest, red-haired child, to Samuel, who stands beside us. 

James Tissot, Jesse Presents David to Samuel
French, c. 1888-1894
New York, Jewish Museum

© M. Duffy, 2018
  1. United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Committee on Divine Worship.  Liturgical Calendar for the Dioceses of the United States of America 2018.  Available at: http://www.usccb.org/about/divine-worship/liturgical-calendar/upload/2018cal.pdf
  2. Foster, Carter E., with Bellenger, Sylvain and Cable, Patrick Shaw.  French Master Drawings from the Collection of Muriel Butkin, Cleveland, The Cleveland Museum.
Excerpts from the Lectionary for Mass for Use in the Dioceses of the United States of America, second typical edition © 2001, 1998, 1997, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC. Used with permission. All rights reserved. No portion of this text may be reproduced by any means without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

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