David is anointed; 1563; woodcut from a book by Martin Luther, (n°1563 LuthB), published 1563 ; Pitts Theology Library, Emory University, Atlanta

Pitts Library


David is anointed by Samuel

To understand

 An old man pours some oil on the head of a young man, Samuel anoints David.

Samuel is an old man; he has filled a bull’s horn with oil and pours it solemnly on David’s head. Sometimes, the horn is replaced by a vase or a phial. Samuel does nothing else but obey to God and painters have sometimes represented the hand of God who touches the horn to manifest his will.

David is an adolescent, sometimes barely out of childhood. In spite of the text, he is not always red-haired, he is often dressed as a shepherd, often carrying his stick, but he can also take noble or royal appearances.

The anointment of David by Samuel is a simple gesture that has nothing of a coronation ceremony. The scenery is often rural and David’s family, his father Jesse and his seven brothers, can attend the scene. If a woman is present ,she is not David’s mother but an allegory of humility.




Not be confused with



Saul is anointed by Samuel ; in "Historiae celebriores Veteris Testamenti Iconibus Representatae", 1712.

Pitts Library

The first one to receive Samuel’s anointment was Saul.

He became king but, as he did not respect God, the latter chose David. There is no means to distinguish between Saul’s anointment and that of David, but its representation is much rarer.


The Baptism of Christ; Andrea VERROCCHIO and Leonardo da VINCI; 1473-78; tempera and oil on wood; Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence, Italy

Web Gallery of Art



Jesus’ baptism

John the Baptist pours some water on Jesus’ head. The latter is a man and not an adolescent; he is undressed and more or less in the water.

See Baptism of Christ



The biblical narrative

The First Book of Samuel, chapter 16

The Hebrews wanted to do like other peoples and have a king. In about 1035 BC, the prophet Samuel anointed Saul, chosen by God. But Saul was a bad king and God decided to choose another, one of Jesse’s sons. Samuel goes to Bethlehem to Jesse’s house in order to anoint one of his sons. When he sees his elder son he says

Surely the LORD'S anointed is before him. But the LORD said unto Samuel, Do not look at his countenance, or at the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the LORD does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.

Thus Samuel successively sees Jesse’s seven sons but none pleases God and the youngest is a shepherd.

And Samuel said unto Jesse, Are all your children here ? And he said, There remains yet the youngest, and, behold, he keeps the sheep. And Samuel said to Jesse, Send and fetch him: for we will not sit down till he comes here.
And he sent, and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and with a beautiful countenance, and good-looking. And the LORD said, Arise, anoint him: for this is the one.

Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the midst of his brethren: and the Spirit of the LORD came upon David from that day forward. (1 Samuel 16:6-13)



Samuel is a prophet and he acts in the name of God. The perfumed oil, usually used as a medicine, took a religious value. That was why Jewish priests received an ointment of oil but also the kings chosen by God, Saul then David.


The Lord’s Anointed is “Messiah” in Hebrew. David is a Messiah. A few centuries later, some Jews recognised a “New David”, another “messiah”, a name translated by Christos in Greek.


See similar pictures


David’s anointment takes place in a house which can take the dimensions of a palace. He is with his father and among his brothers.


Samuel anoints David King; RAPHAEL; 1518-19; fresco; Raphael’s Loggia, Vatican Palace.

 Christus Rex



Samuel anoints David; unknown illustrator; 1712; copperplate from “Historiae celebriores Veteris Testamenti Iconobus representatae” by Caspar Luiken; Pitts Library, Emory University, Atlanta

Pitts Library


David is often seen as a very young adolescent and the Middle-Ages did not hesitate to represent him with his red hair.


 Samuel sacrant David ; MASTER du Psautier d' Ingeborg ; après 12054, tempera et or sur parchemin ; J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

Paul Getty trust



D'après Samuel oint David; Illustrateur de la Bible d'Utrecht vers 1430; manuscrit "Den Haag, KB, 78 D 38 I", Bibliothèque royale, La Haye

 Museum Meermanno


By this anointment, David becomes the chosen king, hence his identification with the sacred king bearing a sceptre or the crowned king. In the picture on the right, one can notice that David is an old man; which is very rare and mistaken.


Samuel anoints David; unknown French Master; c. 1250-1300; miniature; Manuscript MMW 10 E 35; Museum Meermanno Westreenianum, Koniklijke Bibliotheek, The Hague.

 Museum Meermanno



David anointed by Samuel; 15th century miniature; illustrator of the Bréviaire de Martin d’Aragon; Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Paris

BN France



Further developments



Christian Sacraments

Anointments with perfumed oil on the body have had some great importance since the Antiquity. That is why the Catholic Church has used them as visible signs of God’s grace. This is the case of four sacraments: baptism (in addition to the sign of the water), confirmation, the sacrament of order for priests and bishops and the sacrament given to the sick and the dying, also called “extreme unction”.

In all these cases, the anointment is no longer made with liquid oil poured on the head, but with cream or “Chrema” on the forehead.

Sacrament of confirmation



The king’s consecration

Roman emperors were not anointed but Germanic kings, once become Christians, wanted to get the mark of God’s choice, their sacred nature, by adopting the rite of David’s anointment by Samuel.

It was Pepin le Bref, Charlemagne’s father, who was anointed in 754 at Rheims. He thus gave sacredness to his power. The king was no longer merely a victorious chief, he became God’s representative.


The Carolingians, then the Capetians, kept the rite of the anointment. Some wanted to make it a true sacrament but the Church never accepted it. This consecration spread to the other monarchies and still exists in England.

Consecration of St Louis

13th century miniature (c. 1280)



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