The Anointment of David as King

628-630
Silver plate
Metropolitan Museum of Art

This appears to be a conflation of the Bible's three narratives of the anointing of David. In the first, 1 Samuel 16:1-13, David is a shepherd boy anointed by the prophet Samuel. In the present image, David's size could indicate his youth, and the haloed figure blessing the boy with a Trinitarian gesture ought to be Samuel.

But everyone except Samuel is dressed for battle, and Samuel is not doing the anointing, suggesting that the event depicted is either David's royal anointing by either the men of Judah (2 Samuel 2:4) or the men of Israel (2 Samuel 5:1-5).

But the latter passage says that David was 30 years old at the time; and Samuel was long dead.

One might preserve appearances by concluding that the small size of the David figure represents his relative youth at the time of his anointing by the men of Israel (he would reign for another 40 years), and that Samuel is included because his anointing of David was the real one, the one that mattered because it had been directly ordered by God.

In the lower register the snake on the left is likely to be more than decorative because it is repeated in exactly the same position on a companion plate depicting the slaying of Goliath. The snake may be a reference to an epithet of David in the Vulgate 2 Samuel 23:8, sedens in cathedra sapientisssimus princeps inter tres, ipse est quasi tenerrimus ligni vermiculus, "seated on the throne among three [soldiers], he is as the most tender woodworm." The Mirror of Salvation uses this passage to compare David to Christ, mild and gentle but severe with his enemies. Also relevant to David's status as a type of Christ are what are taken to be his words in Vulgate Psalm 21:7, ego autem sum vermis, et non homo, opprobrium hominum, et abiectio plebis, "I am a worm and not a man, the reproach of men and rejected by the people."

Read more about King David.

Photographed at the Metropolitan by Richard Stracke, shared under Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license.