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The second Book of Samuel

The Anointment of David

Paolo Caliari called Il Veronese (1528-1588). Kunsthistorisches Museum. Vienna. Ca. 1555.

David heard the news of the death of Saul and he tore his clothes in mourning. He consulted Yahweh and listened to his advice to go to Hebron. The men of Judah came there and they anointed David as king of the House of Judah.

In the meantime however, Abner son of Ner, the commander of Saul’s armies, had made Saul’s son Ishbaal king of Gilead, of the Asherites, of Ephraim, of Benjamin and indeed of all Israel. Only Judah supported David.

Ishbaal’s retainers led by Abner and David’s retainers led by Joab, son of Zeruiah, had a fierce battle at Gibeon. Abner had to flee but while doing that he killed Asahel, brother of Joab, in a duel fight. Many men were killed on either side. Abner could escape without suffering Joab’s revenge. The war thus dragged on among the Israelites.

Abner took complete control over the House of Saul. He took as wife a concubine of Saul’s called Rizpah, daughter of Aiah. Ishbaal reproached this to Abner, but Abner flared into anger and cursed Ishbaal so that Ishbaal was afraid of Abner now.

Abner sent messengers to David to propose him his support. David agreed to take in Abner. But he demanded of Abner to give back his former wife Michal. So Ishbaal sent for her to be taken away from her husband Paltiel son of Laish and Michal came back to David. Abner then arrived in David’s camp. David held a feast for Abner and Abner promised David to rally Israel behind him. But Joab just then returned from the raids against the Philistines. Joab was angry with David for having let Abner go for Asahel’s death, the death of Joab’s brother, had remained un-revenged. Joab, unknown to David, sent messengers to bring back Abner to Hebron. When Abner reached Hebron, Joab struck him a mortal blow in his belly and thus took revenge for the blood of his brother Asahel. David was appalled when he heard of the murder. He said to Joab and to his company to tear their clothes, put on sackcloth and to mourn with him behind the bier of Abner. Thus the king lamented over Abner, Saul’s army commander, and called him a great prince.

Only Ishbaal was left then to confront David. Two freebooting chieftains of Ishbaal, called Baanah and Rechab, sons of Rimmon of Beeroth, and Benjaminites, now attacked Ishbaal’s house. Ishbaal was lying in his bedroom. Rechab and Baanah killed Ishbaal, struck off his head and brought that to David at Hebron. But David was not pleased with what the bandits had one for Ishbaal had been an upright man. So David had the two men killed, cut off their hands and feet and hung them beside the pool of Hebron. David took Ishbaal’s head and buried it in Abner’s grave at Hebron.

Paolo Veronese was a contemporary of Pieter Bruegel the Elder (ca. 1525-1569). His name was in fact Paolo Caliari and he was the son of a stonemason. He was born in 1528 in Verona, hence his added name. He studied painting with Giovanni Badile in Verona and also with Giovanni Caroto. From 1553 on he was in Venice and his growing fame there allowed him to work fro palaces and churches, among which even the Doge’s Palace. He dominated Venetian painting with Titian and Jacopo Tintoretto. Paolo Veronese treated his religious scenes often in a very secular representation. That led him into difficulties with the clergy, however tolerant Venice’s church hierarchy was. In 1573 he was obliged to appear before the Inquisition because he had treated the ‘Supper at the House of Levi’ too profanely. Paolo Veronese died in Venice in 1588. He was one of the very great masters of art of Venice and brought Venetian brilliance and feeling for splendid harmonious colours to its zenith. If Titian was the emperor of the Venetian painters of the sixteenth century, and Tintoretto its passion, then Paolo Veronese impersonified Venetian elegance and colour.

There could be no greater contrast between Pieter Bruegel’s grand landscape settings for Bible stories and Paolo Veronese’s handling of such themes.

Veronese’s ‘Anointment of David’ is a joyous, luxurious scene of a painter that was still young, thirty years old. The painting is in very gentle, warm reddish, orange, yellow, brown and broken white colours with only touches of a diluted grey-blue in the sky. Veronese isolated the blue colour as it did not match well harmoniously with all the other hues. We see a horizontal band of figures, shown almost like classic sculptures. There is a wealth here of folds of robes and cloaks, sculpted on the people. This proves Veronese’s extraordinary gift at painting chiaroscuro with delicate touches, and his using that to indicate the body volumes.

Veronese painted the ‘Anointment of David’ like a Classicist scene and he added several details to give the viewer the impression of a scene from ancient Roman or Greek antiquity. We discover a bull with long horns as if this was a rapt of Europe, a wonderful tall lady dressed in a white robe and orange cloak on the right that could be Ceres, the goddess of harvests. This lady wears a child that could be a love, a Cupid or a putto playing music on a thin and long satyr’s horn. There is a satyr’s goat on the lower left, together with the bull ancient offering animals but also animals often depicted in Roman iconography. Samuel’s altar is decorated also with goats’ heads in stone, which are typical pageant symbols. Further on the left of the altar stands an alabaster vase, likewise decorated with ancient, maybe Medusa, motifs. The altar of the anointment looks like a Roman offering altar, a secular altar in a Bible scene, even though of course the Jews offered regularly to their god. Such profane presentation of a Bible scene brought trouble to Veronese. His love for classic representation light have been tolerated in scenes of the Old Testament, but could be considered heresy if shown in New Testament paintings.

On the far left of the canvas we see ruins of old Roman buildings. They may represent the old worlds that were before David, when Israel was in ruins. On the far right are scenes of resplendent architecture, which remind of Venice as the New Jerusalem of the future King David.

Veronese placed his personages before a dark wall so that he had a dark background against which his figures in brighter colours would be more visible still. The viewers thus could better discern the figures. In the middle stands the grey bearded Prophet Samuel. He holds a glass and a young lady pours water or oil in Samuel’s glass so that the Prophet can anoint David. The viewer has to look for David. David can be found depicted as a humble shepherd boy, to the left of the altar, kneeling deeply for the anointment by Samuel. David has denuded his upper body and he seems to be the only figure to have done so in the picture. David will be anointed and cleansed, purified by the water.

Around Samuel stand various other figures. Veronese applied symmetry of colours and balance of colour areas in these. So there is a tall lady in a broken white robe and orange cloak on the right and a man painted in similar colours and equally tall on the left side. There is a man with a beard on both sides of Samuel, as well as an equal number of people (of faces) to the left and to the right of the Prophet. The complete shape of the crowd of people around Samuel is a trapezium with its longest side on the top. Veronese painted to the right and to the left of the crowd a man who is inclined. He cleverly made the leftmost man look upwards, so that the viewer would discover by following his gaze a figure on the dark balcony. The rightmost man looks down, so that the viewer would follow also this look and find a small Venetian scene on the lower right. These two figures are the oblique side lines of the trapezium structure within which the people around Samuel and David are confined.

The composition of the painting is, like was often the case with Paolo Veronese, one of horizontal bands. Here, in the ‘Anointment of David’, there is one such band only in the group of figures. Such a composition could easily have become very rigid and dry for an elegant picture. So Paolo Veronese gave oblique poises to many of the figures so that the vertical directions be eased and the rigidity of the structure broken by a variety of directions of lines. The result is a vivid scene that is warm, tender, loving, elegant in its multitude and of great ancient Venetian dignity.

Paolo Veronese gave all importance in this picture to the actors of the Bible story. He painted landscape views, but we all sense that this was only to make the picture somewhat longer at the sides, and the landscapes have a function as symbols of David’s renewal of Israel. These landscapes were not painted for their own right. Veronese was not a landscape painter. He could paint magnificent landscapes, but he was not interested in landscapes. He had not the contemplative character and the gift of admiration of nature of Pieter Bruegel. Veronese was an urban painter and in a town, one is interested first and foremost with the people themselves. It would last till the next century before other great Venetian painters like Canaletto and Guardi would discover their city as a landscape.

King David

All the tribes of Israel gathered at Hebron. David made a pact with their elders. David was thirty years old when he was anointed sole King of all Israel. David reigned over Judah for seven years and six months. Then he reigned over all Israel and Judah for thirty-three years.

David captured Jerusalem form the Jebusites. He took the citadel of Zion and built a wall around it. He went to live in the citadel and called it the City of David. Hiram, king of Tyre, sent cedar wood and carpenters and stonecutters to David. With these David built a palace. Many sons and daughters were born to him there in Jerusalem. He defeated the Philistines twice in the Valley of the Rephaim.

David went then with his people to Baalah of Judah where the Ark was and wanted to bring it into his city. This was not a small task and David had difficulties on the road. Finally, David danced a whirling round before the Ark, wearing only a linen loincloth and brought the Ark thus inside. Michal was filled with contempt when she saw that. When David came home to bless his household she remarked to the king that he had made quite an exhibition of himself dancing like a buffoon before the servants and maids of the palace. But David answered that he had danced for Yahweh and would lower himself even further. He might be base in Michal’s eyes but the maids would hold him in honour. Michal left. From that moment on, Michal daughter of Saul had no children.

David exclaimed to how beautiful a cedar palace he had for God. Nathan the prophet had a vision of Yahweh then. First Yahweh said to Nathan that he did not need a temple for he would always be with Israel in whatever house and would not let the people of Israel be oppressed anymore as they had been before. Yahweh told he would not withdraw his favour from David. David would have a dynasty and his son would reign after him. This son would build a temple to Yahweh’s name and Yahweh would be a father to him. David prayed then and praised Yahweh. Yahweh furthermore told that he would make David’s fame as great as any on the earth. David indeed became famous for his victories against the Philistines, the Moabites, the King of Zobak, the Aramaeans of Damascus, the Amalekites and the Edomites.

Jonathan, son of Saul, had a son of five years old. When the news arrived of Saul’s and Jonathan’s death, his nurse had picked him up and fled. As she hurried she fell. Jonathan‘s son fell also and was lamed. Jonathan’s son was since then crippled at both feet. His name was Meribbaal. David remembered Jonathan. He found Jonathan’s crippled son in Lo-Debar. David restored Saul’s estates to him and he was very kind to him. Meribbaal ate at the king’s table like all David’s sons. He lived in Jerusalem with David.


Copyright: René Dewil Back to the navigation screen (if that screen has been closed) Last updated: January 2007
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