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.
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]
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.