The Hours of Joanna I of Castile, Joanna the Mad (The London Rothschild Prayerbook)

The Hours of Joanna I of Castile, Joanna the Mad (The London Rothschild Prayerbook) f. 135r, David praying


f. 135r, David praying

Davis is depicted, behind a garden wall, in regal garb with his cap on the ground to indicate humility. He kneels with his hands joined and looks up the half figure of God in heaven holding three arrows in his hand. Painted on the left is what would be the royal palace consisting of a large group of buildings with the appearance of the Flemish architecture of the late 15th century, one of which has a porch, and a large tower at the end. A walled construction surrounds the group and depicted in the open space are jousting horsemen, with their shield-bearers in attendance, and a man leading a horse. The figure is the usual one employed in many books of hours: David, with loose garments trimmed and lined with royal ermine, kneels on the ground with his hands either joined or humbly crossed upon his chest, and looks up at either God or an angel – with three arrows or a sword – or both. Generally speaking, expiation takes place in a natural and not urban setting, as is the case of the illustration in the Hours of Joanna of Castile, which was to reappear in an almost identical form in the Spinola Hours (f. 166r) apart from being embellished with more decorative and secondary elements. This urban space, related to the royal group, is, however, to be found in one of the illustrations in a book of hours attributed to the Master of James IV of Scotland and Gerard David (f. 166v). This painting is almost identical to the one in the Book of hours of Queens College, Oxford (f. 143v) except that, in addition to the head-dress on the ground, there is also a harp, an instrument not found in the Hours of Joanna of Castile. It appears subsequently in the Hours of James IV of Scotland (f. 118v) and in the Rothschild Hours (f. 147v.), although the urban background is the only element in common with the painting under study here. The model most similar to the penitent David in the Hours of Joanna of Castile appears in the almost identical illustration in a prayer book made around 1480 by the Master of the Houghton miniatures. The accentuated curve of David’s back gives him a dignified, authoritative appearance. This image appears again, not only in the Hours of Joanna of Castile, but in another four works, particularly one by Simon Bening featuring more architectural details. Medieval tradition attributes the seven penitential Psalms to king David, who wrote them as penitence for his terrible sins which included committing adultery with Bathsheba and murdering her husband, Uriah. Nathan the prophet recriminated the king and, despite his repentance and being pardoned by God, his son died. David showed greater remorse and was pardoned. But the monarch sinned yet again: David’s pride upon ordering a census of Israel and Judah offended God. In that period, Gad the prophet condemned the governor and as punishment, God ordered David to choose between hunger, war or the plague (II Kgs. 24, I Chron. 21). After the ravages of the plague, David’s penitence calmed God’s ire.

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