Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry

The Penance of David

Folio 100v

Jean Colombe's miniature illustrates Lauds in the Office of the Dead, which begins with David's psalm of repentance: "Miserere mei, Deus": "Have mercy on me, O God" (Psalm L).
After seducing Uriah's wife, Bathsheba, David sent her husband to his death and married her. When the prophet Nathan reproached him for his sin and announced his punishment, the King repented; he begged humbly for God's mercy and submitted himself to a long penance, which is depicted here (II Samuel XI-XII).
In the sky the Lord's angel appears, brandishing the avenging sword. David kneels before him with his arms extended in prayer and supplication: "Wash me yet from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin... For I know my iniquity, and my sin is always before me."
David, whose gesture is somewhat theatrical, is no longer the tall old man with a flowing beard represented by the Limbourgs. He is typical of the men painted by Jean Colombe, who are characterized by heavy eyelids and jaw and a low forehead, giving them a hard and often dazed look.
His penance consisted of a fast amid rocks far from the city, which we see here beyond the water and against a mountainous background. It is a lovely landscape suggested to the artist by the Savoie.
Under the large miniature is a battle scene in which cavalry and infantry victoriously charge an enemy. It is probably meant to represent the battle waged by Joab, the leader of David's troops, against the Ammonites, Israel's neighhors across the Jordan river (II Samuel X).
Divided into three sections, it forms the predella of a large frame with statuettes and colored columns, similar to the one enclosing "Job Mocked by His Friends" (folio 82r). However, the small statues of warriors armed with lances and shields are less macabre than the gesticulating skeletons around Job.
Jean Colombe has kept the original lines of text at the bottom of the page, placing them in a kind of large scroll held by two kneeling cherubim.

small image (30KB) --- large image (289KB) --- The avenging angel (large) (243KB) --- David imploring the angel's mercy (large) (258KB) --- The battle scene (large) (253KB)

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