'David', from David, virtvtis exercitatissimae probatum Deo spectaculum: ex Dauidis pastoris, militis, ducis, exsulis ac prophetae exemplis by Benito Arias Montanoby Johann Theodor de Bry and Johann Israel de Bry

Johann Theodor de Bry and Johann Israel de Bry

'David', from David, virtvtis exercitatissimae probatum Deo spectaculum: ex Dauidis pastoris, militis, ducis, exsulis ac prophetae exemplis by Benito Arias Montano (Frankfurt), 1597, Engraving, 21 cm, Getty Research Institute, 93-B7484, p.59, Digital image courtesy of the Getty's Open Content Program

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Abstinence and Self Control

Individual Commentary
Commentary by
Sara Kipfer

This sixteenth-century engraving by the brothers Johann Theodor and Johann Israel de Bry is part of a book about King David containing thirty-nine prints and associated texts on the vices and virtues of the Hebrew king. The engraving first appeared in 1597 in Frankfurt, but it was reprinted several times in new (translated) editions of the same book, and in illustrated Bibles.

David is standing in the left foreground dressed as a warrior, like the line of men holding long spears that stretches away behind him. The three warriors approach from the right, bringing David two large jars filled with water. In the right background the city of Bethlehem is clearly visible, with grand towers and noble houses. Just in front of the city gate, the three warriors are shown at an earlier moment in the narrative. They are drawing water from the well, not far away from the Philistine garrison whose men are also armed with large spears.

The scene in the foreground shows precisely the moment at which David pours out the water, saying that he will not drink it because the three heroes risked their lives to get it:

Far be it for me, Lord, that I do this. Is it not the blood of the men who went at the risk of their lives? (2 Samuel 23:17, own translation)

The title of the engraving (not visible here but see Arias Montano 1597: 59, link below) is temperantia regia: ‘royal temperance’. This tells us that the episode is here being interpreted as a demonstration of abstinence and self-control. A short poem containing two elegiac distiches accompanied the engraving together with some further explanation of the biblical text. It encouraged the reader to act like David. David’s longing for the water of his native town Bethlehem was understandable and human. He did what was right, however, in not drinking it.

By resisting the temptation to drink the precious gift, David overcomes his weakness and faults. Realizing the frivolity of his wish, he offers us an example—repenting and refusing to consume what previously he had longed for.

 

References

Arias Montano, Benito. 1597. David, virtvtis exercitatissimae probatum Deo spectaculum: ex Dauidis pastoris, militis, ducis, exsulis ac prophetae exemplis (Frankfurt) available at https://archive.org/details/davidvirtvtisexe00aria/page/58

Kipfer, Sara. 2015. Der bedrohte David. Eine exegetische und rezeptionsgeschichtliche Studie zu 1Sam 16–1Kön 2 (Berlin: De Gruyter), pp. 351410