David is Anointed by Samuel by Raphael

Raphael

David is Anointed by Samuel, c.1519, Fresco, Raphael Logge of the Apostolic [Vatican] Palace, Vatican City, akg-images

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The Shepherd King

Commentary by

The so-called ‘Bible of Raphael’ consists of a series of fifty-two paintings on the thirteen arches of the ceiling of the Loggia of the Apostolic (Vatican) Palace, a tall walkway open to the air on one side. It was decorated in fresco by a number of artists under the supervision of Raphael. The project was completed in 1519.

The painted narrative proceeds from the creation of the world as recounted in Genesis, to the life of Jesus. Every scriptural theme is represented in four paintings, each framed by false architecture and inserted into a large painted illusionistic structure showing the sky through columns.

The image of David’s anointing by Samuel is the first of four scenes from the life of David. The remaining paintings show David slaying Goliath; David seeing Bathsheba; and the triumph of David, who is shown in a chariot returning victorious from war, accompanied by captives.

The anointing scene takes place within an architectural structure rendered in realistic linear perspective. Through an open window we see trees and a vague landscape in the distance. In the centre, under the window, is a table with a cruse for oil. In front of it, and framing our view of it, stand Samuel and David. Samuel extends his arm to pour oil from a horn onto David’s bowed head; the young and handsome David, holding his shepherd’s crook, inclines in a graceful pose, with one leg bent. The other figures, all dressed in ‘classical’ attire, are equally distributed in a balanced composition. On the left, four of David’s brothers prepare a lamb for sacrifice. On the right stands Jesse with three more brothers.

Both the setting and the figures are rendered with Renaissance three-dimensional naturalism, creating visual plausibility. At the same time, the figures are idealized (one can see the influence of Michelangelo) and are artfully arranged.

The series as a whole presents the Scriptures as sacred history, culminating in Christ. The anointing of David evokes not only the idea of God’s elected king, but also that of shepherd; the sacrifice presages Christ as the sacrificial lamb, anticipating the final painting of the entire series, the Last Supper.

 

References

Davos, Nicole. 2008, The Loggia of Raphael: a Vatican Art Treasure (New York: Abbeville Press)

Magister, Sandro. 2009. ‘The Loggia Is Still Closed, but Raphael's Bible Is Now Open to the Public, 26 June 2009’, www.chiesa.espresso.repubblica.it, [accessed 15 October 2019]