David and Uriah
Hours of Henry VIII, in Latin
Illuminated by Jean Poyer
The Dannie and Hettie Heineman Collection; deposited in 1962, given in 1977
Illuminated around 1500 by the artist Jean Poyer, The Hours of Henry VIII receives its name from the possible but unproven eighteenth-century tradition that holds King Henry of England once owned this splendid manuscript. By following the simple instructions, you can explore every painting of this Renaissance masterpiece and learn how Books of Hours helped their readers to pray.
Books of Hours contain more or less standard texts—Calendar, Gospel Lessons, Hours of the Virgin, Hours of the Cross, Hours of the Holy Spirit, Penitential Psalms with Litany, Office of the Dead, and Suffrages—as well as a number of common accessory prayers. Based on the frequency and variety of added devotions, it appears that scribes included these for owners who wished to personalize their prayer books.
David and Uriah (fol. 108v)
In the miniature, Bathsheba's husband, one knee deferentially bent, has already received the sealed order from David, while his white horse stands ready in the background. A shadowy figure stands by the canopied bed to the left, where the sin was consummated.
To solve the problem of Bathsheba's pregnancy, the king sent a letter to Joab ordering him to place Uriah in the front of the battle, where he would surely be killed (2 Samuel 11:14–15).
Although King David in Penance is the usual and obvious subject selected to mark the Penitential Psalms, his adultery with Bathsheba is also popular at this time. Somewhat rarer is the episode selected here, which occurred after his adultery, when he summoned Uriah, her husband, to Jerusalem. He had conveniently been away, serving in the army under Joab.
Penitential Psalms and Litany (fols. 107v–127)
According to medieval tradition, the Seven Penitential Psalms were written by King David as penance for his grievous sins. In any case, the seven Psalms (6, 31, 37, 50, 101, 129, and 142) were long associated with atonement and had already formed part of Jewish liturgy; they were certainly known by Christians in the West by the sixth century, when Cassiodorus, a Roman historian, statesman, and monk, regarded them as a sevenfold means of obtaining forgiveness.
Theme of Miniature
This theme was probably selected to introduce the first Penitential Psalm because David's order for Uriah's death was considered a sin of "anger." The Psalm is the only one to include the name of a specific Deadly Sin, ira, the Latin word for anger. In addition, the Penitential Psalms in some early-sixteenth-century printed Parisian Horae are illustrated by the same subject, along with a rubric stating that the first Psalm should be invoked against that sin.