Samuel Anoints David

Constantinople, 628-630
Metropolitan Museum of Art

In 1 Samuel 16:1-13 God tells Samuel to go to Bethlehem on the pretext of wishing to offer a heifer in sacrifice but actually to anoint a son of Jesse as king of Israel. At first Samuel thinks the son in question must be Eliab, but God tells him no and rejects all the seven sons that Jesse presents. Finally the youngest son, David, is called in from his work as a shepherd in the fields. This is God's choice, and Samuel anoints him king with a horn of oil.

In the image, Samuel pours oil from the horn onto David's head. The men standing behind the boy are similarly dressed so most likely they are Eliab and Abinadab. The man on the far left pointing to David would then be Jesse, picture as older than the two on the right with his sunken cheeks and receding hairline.

Along the bottom register is an altar burning with a fire as if for the putative sacrifice of the heifer, which is pictured upside-down to the left. On the right, pictured right-side-up, is a sheep or lamb. The reference may be to progression from animal sacrifices to the "once for all" sacrifice of Christ, the "lamb of God" (Hebrews 10:1-10, John 1:29).

The arch in the background also bespeaks the progression from the old dispensation to the new. It was a common device in Byzantine art for framing a portrait of the Emperor, considered a representative of Christ, of whom David is a type.

This plate is part of a set displayed in the Byzantine Art gallery at the museum.

Read more about images of King David.

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