One Day Exhibition in Peterhof Museum Rembrandt
Harmens Van Rijn David and Jonathan
On 26 July, 2002, the State Hermitage Museum took part in the Hermitage
Day in Peterhof which marked the 277th anniversary of the foundation of
the first Russian Hermitage. The Peterhof Museum hosted a one-day exhibition
of the most famous painting in the collection of Peter I, Rembrandt's
David and Jonathan.
The canvas was bought at the auction sale of Jan van Beiningen's collection
in Amsterdam on 13 May, 1716, according to Peter's instructions, for Monplaisir
Palace in Peterhof; in 1882 it was transferred to the Hermitage.
Russians started to collect West European painting in the first quarter
of the 18th century. The largest collection in this epoch was put together
by Peter I in Peterhof where it is still kept in Monplaisir Palace and
Hermitage Pavilion, though substantially changed. David and Jonathan was
mentioned in the 18th century among 29 works of art in Monplaisir Palace.
A palace inventory made in the 19th century says that Rembrandtís masterpiece
was exhibited in a black frame.
There are a few drawings of Rembrandt from the first half of the 1640s
which tell this Old Testament story (1 Kings). Prince Jonathan, son of
King Saul, made a covenant with David giving him his garments, bow, sword
and girdle. Learning of King Saulís intention to kill David, Jonathan
left the palace in secret and hurried to forewarn the young man that he
was in danger. Their meeting took place by the stone Ezel where David
was hiding. The Bible says that David arose out of a place toward the
south, and fell on his face to the ground, and bowed himself three times:
and they kissed one another, and wept one with another, until David exceeded.
The dramatic images (saddened Jonathan is raising David from his knees
and keeping him up tenderly while he is crying in his bosom) show that
Rembrandt knew Josephus Flavius' Ioudaike Archaiologia where the
characters' emotions before the parting are described in greater detail
compared to the Biblical text. Many details mentioned in the Old Testament
are included into the composition, the stone Ezel which can be seen behind
Jonathan's figure, rich garments, girdle and sword given by the Prince
to David, arrows used to give signal and entrance to David's hideout.
Rembrandt gave Jonathan his own features, while David's appearance and
behavior have something womanly in them. Possibly the painting revives
the artist's memory of the parting with his wife Saskia who died in a
David and Jonathan
Harmensz. van Rijn
State Hermitage Director Mikhail Piotrovsky and Director
State Museum in Peterhof Vadim Znamenov opening the exhibition