Rubens Painting of King David Playing His Harp

mff1442.jpgThere is a painting that has been in my family for about 30 years and was recently given to me. It is King David and His Harp by Peter paul Rubens. Of course we don’t have the original, but it is a fine print in a very elaborate frame.

It’s textures are dark, with the slight glimmering of King David’s robe. King David is quite old in the painting and looks with devotion towards heaven as his worn and calloused fingers pluck the strings. It is a painting I spent endless hours staring at as a child, and even today find myself gazing at it almost daily now that it’s in my house.

The painting is a statement of faith, of a live well-lived, of humble devotion to God. To me it is the most beautiful painting I have ever seen. My father loved it also. To him it was a statement of power and stately position, to me it is much more humbling.

Here are details from my own print of the Rubens painting. I’ve also included below several other paintings by Peter Paul Rubens, as well as paintings of King David playing his harp, and paintings/pictures of the harp in ancient and modern settings.

When I look at the painting, I feel comforted for having spent a life in music, and for the humble possession of faith.

Creator: Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) , Flemish
Period: Northern Baroque
Museum: Städelsches Kunstinstitut, Frankfurt (Main), Germany





Self Portrait?


Christ and Saint John with Angels
Wilton House at Wiltshire, England

The Prophet Elijah Receiving Bread and Water from an Angel
1625-28 Musee Bonnat, Bayonne, France


1628 Oil on canvas, Uffizi



The Flemish baroque painter Peter Paul Rubens, b. June 28, 1577, d. May 30, 1640 was the most renowned northern European artist of his day, and is now widely recognized as one of the foremost painters in Western art history.

By completing the fusion of the realistic tradition of Flemish painting with the imaginative freedom and classical themes of Italian Renaissance painting, he fundamentally revitalized and redirected northern European painting.

Rubens’s upbringing mirrored the intense religious strife of his age–a fact that was to be of crucial importance in his artistic career. His father, an ardently Calvinist Antwerp lawyer, fled in 1568 to Germany to escape religious persecution, but after his death (1587) the family moved back to Antwerp, where Peter Paul was raised a Roman Catholic and received his early training as an artist and a courtier. By the age of 21 he was a master painter whose aesthetic and religious outlook led him to look to Italy as the place to complete his education. Upon arriving (1600) in Venice, he fell under the spell of the radiant color and majestic forms of Titian, whose work had a formative influence on Rubens’s mature style. During Rubens’s 8 years (1600-08) as court painter to the duke of Mantua, he assimilated the lessons of the other Italian Renaissance masters and made (1603) a journey to Spain that had a profound impact on the development of Spanish baroque art. He also spent a considerable amount of time in Rome, where he painted altarpieces for the churches of Santa Croce di Gerusalemme (1602; now in Hopital du Petit-Paris, Grasse, France) and the Chiesa Nuova (1607; now in Musee de Peinture et Sculpture, Grenoble, France), his first widely acknowledged masterpieces. His reputation established, Rubens returned (1608) to Antwerp following the death of his mother and quickly became the dominant artistic figure in the Spanish Netherlands.

In the mature phase of his career, Rubens either executed personally or supervised the execution of an enormous body of works that spanned all areas of painting and drawing. A devout Roman Catholic, he imbued his many religious paintings with the emotional tenor of the Counter-Reformation. This aggressively religious stance, along with his deep involvement in public affairs, lent Rubens’s work a conservative and public cast that contrasts sharply with the more private and secular paintings of his great Dutch contemporary, Rembrandt. But if his roots lay in Italian classical art and in Roman Catholic dogma, Rubens avoided sterile repetition of academic forms by injecting into his works a lusty exuberance and almost frenetic energy. Glowing color and light that flickers across limbs and draperies infuse spiraling compositions such as The Descent from the Cross (1611; Antwerp Cathedral) with a characteristically baroque sense of movement and tactile strength.

A love of monumental forms and dynamic effects is most readily apparent in the vast decorative schemes he executed in the 1620s, including the famous 21-painting cycle (1622-25; Louvre, Paris), chronicling the life of Marie de Medicis, originally painted for the Luxembourg Palace. In order to complete these huge commissions, Rubens set up a studio along the lines of Italian painters’ workshops, in which fully qualified artists executed paintings from the master’s sketches. Rubens’s personal contribution to the over 2,000 works produced by this studio varied considerably from work to work. Among his most famous assistants were Anthony van Dyck and Frans SNYDERS.

Rubens’s phenomenal productivity was interrupted from time to time by diplomatic duties given him by his royal patrons, Archduke Ferdinand and Archduchess Isabella, for whom he conducted (1625) negotiations aimed at ending the war between the Spanish Netherlands and the Dutch Republic and helped conclude (1629-30) a peace treaty between England and Spain. Charles I of England was so impressed with Rubens’s efforts that he knighted the Flemish painter and commissioned his only surviving ceiling painting, The Allegory of War and Peace (1629; Banqueting House, Whitehall Palace, London).

During the final decade of his life, Rubens turned more and more to portraits, genre scenes, and landscapes. These later works, such as Landscape with the Chateau of Steen (1636; National Gallery, London), lack the turbulent drama of his earlier paintings but reflect a masterful command of detail and an unflagging technical skill. Despite recurring attacks of arthritis, he remained an unusually prolific artist throughout his last years, which were spent largely at his estate, Chateau de Steen.










Information About the Harp

The harp is the only plucked-string instrument standard to the orchestra. Harps go back many thousands of years. Ancient Middle Eastern paintings show harps being played 2500 years before the Christian era. You can always identify King David in paintings and books because he was known to play the harp.Small harps have been used by bards, minstrels and troubadors for many hundreds of years, because they are easy and portable. It was in the Renaissance in Europe that big floor harps began to be used in ensemble music. The hard part with harps was to make them so they could play in any key. They usually had only “white keys”, and had to be retuned constantly. For a while, harps were built with two and three rows of strings, which made them quite hard to play.It was in 1782, in France, that the “double-action harp” was invented. This innovation allowed the player to raise and lower the pitch of the strings using pedals. And it was from this method that the modern double-action pedal harp evolved. By the mid-1800s, there were so many double-action harps that Western composers were able to write orchestral parts for the harp. Tchaikovsky and Debussy wrote some of the loveliest harp parts.








3 thoughts on “Rubens Painting of King David Playing His Harp

  1. Hello my name is Gary Prosser. About two years ago I had an older brother pass away that was a collector of many antique items. One of those items is a picture of King David playing the harp. I am told that the paint is definetly an old masters period painting but it has no signature on it. It looks just like the painting Peter Paul Ruebens did.

    I have contacted several major auction houses and they are very interested in selling this painting for me if I could prove who it is by. Is there any thing you can tell me or any place you can dirrect me to that can help me identift it for sure. Or do you know any place that may be interested in purchasing this painting. It had restoration work done on it in 1995 by the
    Minnesota institute of art, but they were only able to tell me what restoration work had been done and what my brother spent to have this work done. He spent $2,100 on the restoration work and knowing my brother he never would have spent that amount unless he was pretty sure this was worth a lot more.

  2. Dear Gary,
    sorry I just recognized your question. The paintings by Rubens and specially King David are listed in:
    Corpus Rubenianum Ludwig Burchard , vol. 3 (1989), p. 130-131, no. 40. And on minor literature as
    Tieze/Haeseler 2009 , p. 324-339 (Staedel Frankfurt); Jaffé 1989 , no. 413
    I assume you need to have help from an art historian like me or other experts (be careful with your choice -most of my colleaques are no good people).
    If the painting is 17th century try to contact the Rubenianum in Antwerp:
    and send good Photos or contact me 😉 With best regards Bernd Mengel, Cologne

  3. Hi! I have a print, too, for more than 40 years. My parents a moving to a home. Is there value to it?

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