David in front of King Saul
David in front of King Saul
David in front of King Saul
David in front of King Saul
David in front of King Saul

David in front of King Saul

Author: Smuglewicz Franciszek, 1745 - 1807

Created: late 18th century.

Material / technique: oil on canvas.

Dimensions: 64x62 cm.

King David was the king of Israel and of Judea. Born into the family of farmer Jesse in Bethlehem, from his childhood David tended his father’s sheep. As a child he was anointed by Prophet Samuel as the future king. David entered the court of King Saul as a young man where he played the harp, cheering up the king who was suffering from melancholy. When the war against the Philistines broke out, David fought against Goliath, a giant, and defeated him. As a result, King Saul appointed him the commander of his army. Soon David became the king. During his reign, Jerusalem became the capital of the state of Israel, where he moved the Ark of the Covenant.

Towards where the sun rises there is a land called the Holy Land, Palestine and Jewish land. In the past and today in that land not too far from Jerusalem there was a town called Bethlehem, where the famous man Jesse lived and had eight sons. Among these, the smallest and youngest son was called David. Everyone thought the child was handsome, because he was not tall, he had curly red hair, brown eyes, small nose, but dark skin. Growing up in the fear of God, in all matters he listened to his father and tended his flock of sheep. /.../

In the meantime, King Saul was struck by some disease of distress; knowing he could not be the king made him restless and he caused storms. He was restless, tearful, annoyed, and tormented his own family and himself. At this sight the doctors of that time advised that a man who was able to play an instrument be appointed, and David the son of Jesse was that man. The king brought him over immediately and ordered him to play the harp. David was a pleasant and engaging player. Saul started listening and became happier; he became fond of the harp player and accommodated him in his palace. [Motiejus Valančius, „Gyvenimas šv. Dovydo, karaliaus žydų ir pranašo“ Raštai 4, 2011, p. 11–25]


Reference: "The Lithuanian art collection of Jaunius Gumbis". Museum and Collector - 6. Vilnius: National Museum of Lithuania, 2016, P. 22.


The wave of interest in Antiquity that emerged in the mid-18th century, along with drawings of artefacts found during excavations of ancient sites, influenced the range of themes portrayed in art. Religious compositions were still important, but they took second place to allegorical figurative compositions on ancient and mythological themes. The interest in ancient and Middle Eastern civilisations led to an interest in the history of the Jews. Art based on the Old Testament reflected this in aesthetic principles that were similar to those used in recreating episodes from the history of Ancient Greece and Rome. Prophets and kings were portrayed as gods and heroes, dressed in Roman or later dress. The Old Testament story about the young David, the future King of Judah and Israel (1010-970 BCE), portrayed in this picture appears often in European art. When David was tending sheep in Bethlehem, he was invited to Saul’s palace to play the lyre, in order to soothe the king when he was suffering from evil spirits. This way, he earned Saul’s favour: ‘Whenever the spirit from God came on Saul, David would take up his lyre and play. Then relief would come to Saul; he would feel better, and the evil spirit would leave him’ (1 Sam 16, 23). The vertical spear accentuated in the composition alludes to the king’s future ingratitude: after David’s victory over Goliath, the giant Philistine warrior, and other successful struggles, Saul begrudged David his glory, and, overcome with rage, thrust a spear at David.

Reference: Art album "Heaven and Beyond"; compiler Dalia Vasiliunienė, authors Dalia Vasiliunienė and Skaidrė Urbonienė. Vilnius, VALIUNAS ELLEX, 2016. P. 252.

Exhibitions: "Under Italian Skies. Lithuanian artists’ works from the 18th - first half of the 20th centuries", 1 December 2017 - 26 August 2018, Lithuanian Art Museum, Vilnius Picture Gallery.

Published: Reference: "The Lithuanian art collection of Jaunius Gumbis". Museum and Collector - 6. Vilnius: National Museum of Lithuania, 2016, P. 23; Art album "Heaven and Beyond"; compiler Dalia Vasiliunienė, authors Dalia Vasiliunienė and Skaidrė Urbonienė. Vilnius, VALIUNAS ELLEX, 2016. P. 252, Cat. P. 360 No. 2; "RES PUBLICA" The art collection of the law firm Ellex Valiunas. Compiler R. Jononienė. Vilnius, 2018, P. 16, Cat. No. 89, P. 228.

Photographs: expert’s conclusion on authorship on the other side of the painting (signed by art critic Przemysław Michałowski, 11 February 1949, Poznan); display in the exhibition "Under Italian Skies. Lithuanian artists’ works from the 18th - first half of the 20th centuries", 1 December 2017 - 26 August 2018, Lithuanian Art Museum, Vilnius Picture Gallery.