Monday, June 27, 2011

David playing a Psaltery

Blessed Fra Angelico (c.1395/1400 - 1455)
David playing a Psaltery
c. 1430
On vellum: Pen and brown ink, with purple wash, over stylus indications, some ruled, with the blank areas such as the halo burnished
197 millimetres x 178 millimetres
The British Museum, London

This is one of the few extant drawings by Fra Angelico

David is playing the psaltery. The psaltery was a type of zither, based on a very old instrument similar to the harp or the lyre.

The drawing appears to be a cutting from a psalter

The verso has an index on the left with a list of psalms and hymns and when they are to be sung

It also contains the words:

" In Christi nomine amen. Incipit psalterium secundum morem et consuetudimen romane curiae''Ad nocturnum. Psalmus David' ('In the name of Christ. Amen. Here begins the psalter according to the customs and uses of the Roman curia .At nocturns. The Psalm of David')."

After Masaccio's premature death in 1428, Fra Angelico emerged as the city's most modern and sought-after artist.

It is instructive to compare the work with Fra Angelico`s depiction of King David in a psalter in the Convent San Marco in Florence.

The depiction of King David in Florence had a particular significance because of the identification by the city with David: youth, beauty, musical ability, poet, military ability against overwhelming odds, kingship. All these qualities would have appealed to the Florentine audience.

But it is unlike other representations of David in Florence showing David holding the head of a slain Goliath or a David with a sling under the influence of fear, tension and aggression. Here we see a more religious interpretation (than political) of the King David, the greatest of all the Kings of Israel. David is alone with God, praising him.

The playing by David of the psaltery is the praise of God. It is not only with the voice but with musical instrument In Psalm 150 we are told:

" Praise him with the sound of the trumpet:
Praise him withe psaltery and the harp.
Praise him with the timbrel and the dance:
Praise him with stringed instruments and organs.
Praise him upon the loud cymbals:
Praise him upon the high sounding cymbals."

Fra Angelico`s David is the David of Psalm 62 (Psalm 63):the one who hungers and thirst for the Lord, for mystical communion with God. The David who considers his own life is less or secondary to the Love of God. Without the Love of God, David`s life has no meaning. With God, fear is dispelled and "in the shadow of your wings I shout for joy." It is a song heart felt sung and meant with every fibre of his being: " My soul clings fast to you",

"A psalm of David, when he was in the wilderness of Judah.

O God, you are my God - for you I long! For you my body yearns; for you my soul thirsts, Like a land parched, lifeless, and without water.

So I look to you in the sanctuary to see your power and glory.

For your love is better than life; my lips offer you worship!

I will bless you as long as I live; I will lift up my hands, calling on your name.

My soul shall savour the rich banquet of praise, with joyous lips my mouth shall honour you!

When I think of you upon my bed, through the night watches I will recall

That you indeed are my help, and in the shadow of your wings I shout for joy.

My soul clings fast to you; your right hand upholds me.

But those who seek my life will come to ruin; they shall go down to the depths of the earth!

They shall be handed over to the sword and become the prey of jackals!

But the king shall rejoice in God; all who swear by the Lord shall exult, for the mouths of liars will be shut!"

Here is a beautiful rendition of Purcell`s O God, thou art my God.

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