The J. Paul Getty Museum

King David in Penitence

Object Details


King David in Penitence


Master of the Houghton Miniatures (Flemish, active about 1476 - 1480)




Ghent, Belgium (Place Created)


about 1480


Tempera colors and gold

Object Number:

Ms. 117 (2018.78)


Leaf: 12.5 × 7.8 cm (4 15/16 × 3 1/16 in.)

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Object Description

The figure of King David kneels on the grass in prayer, his gaze upturned to the figure of God. A crown and the harp used for his composition of the psalms lie before him on the ground. God the father gazes down on him from above, silhouetted by a gold ground demarcating the unearthly realm of heaven. God holds an orb in his left hand, signifying his power over the world, and an arrow in his right. The arrow symbolizes justice but may also allude to the wrongful death of Uriah (the husband of David’s lover Bathsheba), which was orchestrated by David. The Master of the Houghton Miniatures, the name given to an anonymous artist whose greatest work resides in one manuscript at the Houghton Library at Harvard, An innovator, the Master of the Houghton Miniatures ushered in a new naturalism that was to characterize Ghent-Bruges illumination for nearly half a century. His sensitive draftsmanship renders David’s features and wispy curling hair with convincing detail while the elaborate buildings behind him recede deeply and dramatically into space. The miniature’s palate is muted and colors have shifted as a result of exposure to light. David’s voluminous robes, spread behind him in sharp folds as he kneels, were most likely originally a rich, bold, red rather than the muted yellow they appear today. .

until 2018

Private Collection, sold to the J. Paul Getty Museum, 2018.

Illuminating the Renaissance: The Triumph of Flemish Manuscript Painting in Europe (June 17, 2003 to February 22, 2004)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center (Los Angeles), June 17 to September 7, 2003
  • Royal Academy of Arts (London), November 29, 2003 to February 22, 2004
Museum Acquisitions 2019: Director’s Choice (December 10, 2019 to March 1, 2020)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center (Los Angeles), December 10, 2019 to March 1, 2020
Transcending Time: The Medieval Book of Hours (August 31, 2021 to February 20, 2022)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center (Los Angeles), August 31, 2021 to February 20, 2022