The Paris Psalter was probably commissioned by Byzantine Emperor Constantine VII Porphyogennetos (reigned 945–59 CE). Its fourteen illuminations in tempera and gold leaf stress the sacred character of kingly rule. Eight depict David: one as the ideal priest/king; the rest showing him composing the psalms, defending his flock, anointed by Samuel, slaying Goliath, acclaimed by the populace, crowned as king, and repentant after Nathan’s reproach.
The illuminations’ colouring and technique imitate the classical style of fifth- and sixth-century painting. Like ancient pagan art, they include personifications of virtues and of nature. As we see clearly in the illustration of the anointing of David, multiple perspectives are deployed, including the inverse perspective associated with many Byzantine icons.
The size of figures indicates importance. Thus David’s seven brothers are shown on a smaller scale than David, although they are on the same plane. Their father Jesse is the largest figure. Samuel is shown standing on the steps of a columned building and pouring oil on the inclined head of David. Jesse and Samuel are dressed in classical togas over tunics with stripes (claves). David is dressed in a short tunic with gold stripes, and a short purple cloak draped over one shoulder—indications of his royal status. A symbolic female figure labelled ‘gentleness’ or ‘humility’ (praotēs), hanging in the air behind Jesse, points to the bowing David. Both Samuel and the personification have haloes behind their heads—a sign not of sanctity, but of importance.
The illustrations as a whole are a kind of imperial encomium. David is presented as God’s elected ruler: a type not only of Christ, but also of the Byzantine emperor. St Paul wrote that all authority is from God (Romans 13:1), and 1 Peter (2:17) enjoins Christians to honour the king. Church historian Eusebius wrote that God created the Roman empire. Justinian’s Corpus Juris Civilis affirmed that ‘God has sent the emperor to earth as living law’ (Novellae Constitutiones 105.2.4). This is reaffirmed by the Basilika of 888.
In seeing themselves in the image of God’s anointed—David and his descendant, Jesus—the Byzantine emperors reinforced their claim to rule on God’s behalf.
Dipippo, Gregory. 2017. “The Paris Psalter, 4 February 2017”, www.newliturgicalmovement.org [accessed 16 October 2019]
16 The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you grieve over Saul, seeing I have rejected him from being king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil, and go; I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.” 2And Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears it, he will kill me.” And the Lord said, “Take a heifer with you, and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.’ 3And invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do; and you shall anoint for me him whom I name to you.” 4Samuel did what the Lord commanded, and came to Bethlehem. The elders of the city came to meet him trembling, and said, “Do you come peaceably?” 5And he said, “Peaceably; I have come to sacrifice to the Lord; consecrate yourselves, and come with me to the sacrifice.” And he consecrated Jesse and his sons, and invited them to the sacrifice.
6 When they came, he looked on Eliʹab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is before him.” 7But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord sees not as man sees; man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” 8Then Jesse called Abinʹadab, and made him pass before Samuel. And he said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” 9Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” 10And Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel. And Samuel said to Jesse, “The Lord has not chosen these.” 11And Samuel said to Jesse, “Are all your sons here?” And he said, “There remains yet the youngest, but behold, he is keeping the sheep.” And Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and fetch him; for we will not sit down till he comes here.” 12And he sent, and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome. And the Lord said, “Arise, anoint him; for this is he.” 13Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the midst of his brothers; and the Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward. And Samuel rose up, and went to Ramah.