David and Uriah
Hours of Henry VIII
Illuminated by Jean Poyer
Gift of the Heineman Foundation, 1977
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.