03.01.17, Hourihane, King David in the Index of Christian Art

Main Article Content

Prof. Dr. Michael Stolz

The Medieval Review baj9928.0301.017


Hourihane, Colum, ed.. King David in the Index of Christian Art. Series: Index of Christian Art Resources, 11. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002. Pp. xxvi, 438. ISBN: 0-691-09547-7.
ISBN: 0-691-09546-9.

Reviewed by:
Prof. Dr. Michael Stolz
Universitdt Basel

This book gives an excellent overview of the image of the biblical King David as presented in medieval art.

David's life is detailed with great care in the Old Testament (I Samuel 16-31, II Samuel, and I Chronicles). He is portrayed as a shepherd gifted with musical skills who is chosen and anointed by the prophet Samuel. Playing the harp, he lifts the spirits of the despondent king Saul, engaged in battles against the Philistines. David's military talent comes to light, as he defeats the mighty warrior Goliath with his sling. Initially, David is favored by Saul and his family, gaining both the friendship of Jonathan, Saul's son, and the love of Michal, Saul's daughter, whom he will marry. But later David is forced to escape the king's increasingly jealous resentment. After years in exile he moves back to Hebron, where he is proclaimed king of Judah, the most powerful of the tribes of Israel. In his forty years' kingship he shapes the future of Israel and makes Jerusalem his capital. However, David's success is also marked by transgression and decline. In adultery with Bathsheba he fathers the future king Solomon; and he has to withstand the revolt of his legitimate and favorite sun Absalom, who, against David's will, is killed in prosecution.

David's powerful and ambiguous character made him a most prominent figure in both the Christian and Jewish tradition. During the Christian Middle Ages, his image as a king, a father and lover was equally received in political thought, in literature, music, and art. Based on the biblical scriptures, he was credited with being the author of the Psalms and the direct ancestor of Christ (cf. Matthew 1:17; Paul, Romans 1:3). These roles shaped David's profile in the mixed culture of clerics and laymen, who were engaged in a mutual relationship. For the clerics, David, the author of the psalms, figured as God's voice, suitable to influence the laymen's habits. For the lay rulers, David and his varied political fortunes became the primary example of kingship. David's genealogical connection with Christ was prolonged into the medieval present: Emperors like Charlemagne and Frederick Barbarossa tried to ennoble and truly sanctify their sovereignty by linking it to Christ through the biblical king.

Colum Hourihane's book documents the visual representation of this manifold and versatile concept. Following a volume dedicated to the personifications of the virtues and vices in medieval art (Virtue and Vice. The Personifications in the Index of Christian Art[Princeton, 2000]), this is the second in the 'Index of Christian art resources' series which presents extracts of the Princeton Index of Christian Art, founded by Charles Rufus Morey in 1917. This famous Index, documenting Christian art from early apostolic times up to the fifteenth century, was originally recorded in manual card files. Based on strict editorial rules and collecting policies (developed in the 1930's) these files provide detailed information on approximately 200,00 works of art to be found in a broad Christian context that is not limited to merely ecclesiastical or theological issues.

The Index consists of two file groups, i.e. firstly a detailed iconographical description of every single work and secondly a subject listing of over 26,000 thematically ordered terms. The latter contains descriptions of the most significant themes in Christian and medieval art, such as Crucifixion, Assumption of the Virgin, the above mentioned personifications of the virtues and vices, or King David. Main subject headings are accompanied by additional subjects, filed as secondary terms and cross-referenced to the main term. The subject listing always comprises an indication of the medium (e.g. enamels, frescoes, stained glass, manuscripts, textiles), and of the location (geographical places with institutions such as libraries and museums), and is followed by a bibliography.

Physically and institutionally based at Princeton University, the Index has four copies in North America and Europe (Dumbarton Oaks, Washington; Art Library, Los Angeles; Rijksuniversiteit, Utrecht; Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Rome). There is also a computerised version available by subscription on the internet (http://www.princeton.edu/~ica/index.shtml), which offers additional information. Recently, this electronic database has been supplemented by the manuscript holdings of the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York.

Colum Hourihane, the present director of the Index, has constructed his book on King David from the existing manuscript and electronic files. The volume is mainly a catalogue containing an abbreviated form of the more comprehensive entries to be found in the Index. For practical reasons some restrictions had to be made, so the book publication is lacking the subject files' bibliographical references, the information about owners and provenance, and the detailed text descriptions.

The catalogue covers 245 scenes listed in the Index, including themes like "David: Accepted by Saul", "David: Encountering Goliath", "David: With Bathsheba" (cf. the list pp. 5-10, giving the pertinent references of the bible text). In addition to this, the catalogue includes other sections dealing with "unidentified scenes", with "portrait"-type images, with David as horseman, orant, soldier, and David in the company of other persons (Jonathan, musicians, scribes, Solomon).

In each section, the catalogued works are ordered by media. Here the richness of the book becomes obvious, as the pictures representing David are to be found in stained glass windows (e.g. in Chartres cathedral), in ivory book covers (e.g. those belonging to the Dagulf Psalter, Musée du Louvre, OA 9/10), in psalter-hymnals (e.g. Pierpont Morgan Library, M. 313), biblical picture books (e.g. Pierpont Morgan Library, M. 638), prayer books (e.g. the so called 'Cursus Sanctae Mariae', Pierpont Morgan Library, M. 739), books of hours (e.g. the Hours of Anne of France, Pierpont Morgan Library, M. 677), and sculptures (e.g. in Ste-Madeleine, Vézelay).

All the entries consist of four fields, giving information about (1) the current geographical location, (2) further details (e.g., the exact location of a fresco or glass work, the type of book and the pertinent folio of a manuscript), (3) the date of the work and, if possible, the identity of the artist or atelier, (4) the primary subject matter of the Index in which the particular representation is to be found (e.g. the relation to a certain psalm, listed as subject in the Index).

The catalogue is illustrated with 111 black and white photographs of high quality, most of them showing objects of the Pierpont Morgan Library collection (cf. the list p. xi-xviii). Other parts of the book comprise an introduction which explains the use of the catalogue, a selected bibliography and an index covering mainly place names.

It is a real pleasure to browse through this volume, especially with a specific question in mind. The book is a rich source of parallels for scholars studying the iconography of David. It may offer a first access to the material of the Index of Christian Art that can nowadays easily be supplemented by the consultation of the electronic database available in many scholarly libraries.

Sometimes it is a little bit arduous to find one's way through the subject headings. Alphabetically ordered entries having a close thematic connection such as "Encountering Goliath" (I Samuel 17:48-51), "Offering to Fight Goliath" (I Samuel 17:32-37), "Spoiling of Goliath" (I Samuel 17:54), "Told about Goliath" (I Samuel 17:25-27) are placed in great distance to each other, and the captions' terminology is not always evident. Probably, it would have been useful to include personal names such as Goliath, Bathsheba, and Saul in the index at the end of the book, although this would have inflated the glossary.

In some cases the manuscript shelf marks are out of date (as for the psalter Mantua, Lib., Bibl. Comunale, quoted p. 158, 395: former C. III, 20, now: ms. 340).[[1]] As Hourihane stresses in the introduction, a book like this may never be exhaustive. As a reader, I have found much material which was new to me and has enriched my knowledge of the medieval iconography of King David. If, however, I were asked to contribute what I missed (as Hourihane suggests, xxiv) I would refer to the following:

Ivrea: Biblioteca Capitolare, Cod. 85, so called 'Warmundus-Psalter', fol. 228v, ca. 1000 A.D., (David as shepherd). [[2]]

Stuttgart: Wuerttembergischen Landesbibliothek, Cod. theol. et phil. fol. 341, psalm commentary by Peter Lombard, fol. 1r, 3rd quarter of the twelfth century (King David with a psalterium, represented as a typological figura of the passion of Christ). [[3]]

One hopes that Hourihane's book will stimulate further research on the role King David played in medieval art and culture. The visualisation of David, the musician and shepherd, the warrior and king, was modelled on the background of pictorial traditions which could be adapted to specific political purposes. This can be seen in the famous Liber ad honorem Augusti sive de rebus siculis by Peter of Ebulo from 1195-1197, where Frederick Barbarossa is depicted as the direct successor of David in an illustration showing the biblical ages of mankind (fol. 143, cf. Hourihane, p. 309). Illustrations like these are suitable to demonstrate that David had an important impact on the complex relationship of clerics and laymen, which can scarcely be overestimated.


[[1]] Cf. Sibylle Walther, "Le ms. 340 de Mantoue et l'illustration du psautier dans le Moyen Age italien," Diss. phil. Lausanne, 2001.

[[2]] Cf. Luigi Magnani, Le miniature del Sacramentario d'Ivrea e di altri codici Warmondiani. Codices ex ecclesiasticis Italiae bybliothecis delecti phototypice expressi, 6. Città del Vaticano 1934. P. 49, plate XLVII d; Sibylle Walther, "Le ms. 340 de Mantoue," chap. III and VI.

[[3]] Cf. Roland Reichen, "David als Typus Christi und der Kirche. Zur klerikalen Aneignung des biblischen Koenigs," in Michael Stolz, ed., Koenig David im Mittelalter. Zur Konstruktion einer Symbolfigur im Schnittpunkt klerikaler und laikaler Interessen. Referate einer Doppelsektion anlaesslich der Tagung der International Courtly Literature Society zum Thema 'Hoefische Literatur und Klerikerkultur, ('Courtly Literature and Clerical Culture'), Tuebingen 28. Juli - 3. August 2001. Tuebingen/Basel, 2003 (in press).

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Author Biography

Prof. Dr. Michael Stolz

Universitdt Basel