David Playing the Harp

North French Miscellany, Northern France, c.1278-98. David playing the harp

This 13th-century French manuscript shows a popular contemporary subject in both Christian and Jewish art- King David playing his harp. He is traditionally the author of the Psalms, which were to be sung with musical accompaniment. Though it is a Hebrew manuscript, this was evidently illuminated by Christian artists.

King David is a popular subject in Christian and Jewish art, and appears in countless medieval illuminated manuscripts as a shepherd, warrior, writer and in various other guises. In the Psalter that belonged to King Henry VIII of England, there is a portrait of Henry himself posing as David.

In this image David is shown crowned, wearing a bright red cloak lined with royal ermine. He is seated cross-legged in a golden chair playing the harp. The biblical miniatures in this Hebrew manuscript were apparently created by Christian illuminators belonging to three important 13th-century Parisian workshops. Perhaps they were inspired by imagery in the Bibles moralisées of France of the period- ‘picture-book bibles’, which contained sumptuously illustrated versions of the scriptures’ stories with the text serving as little more than captioning.

British Library- North French Miscellany