David in Prayer

Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn (Dutch, 1606¬†‚Äď 1669),¬†David in Prayer, 1652, Etching and drypoint on laid paper. Bequest of Mr. Jack F. Feddersen, Raclin Murphy Museum of Art, University of Notre Dame, 1991.025.015


Who made it?

Rembrandt Harmenz van Rijn is one of the most recognizable names in all of art history. He was a prolific painter, draftsman, and etcher. Born in 1606 in the Dutch Republic, or the modern-day Netherlands, he studied with master artists, learning various techniques at a young age. After leaving the Dutch city of Leiden, he moved to Amsterdam, where he created portraits for wealthy patrons along with mythological and biblical works that aligned with his passion for telling tales. His immense body of work highlights his precise attention to detail, his skillful rendering of light and space, and his ability to portray people in a variety of moods. 

Though he is most well-known today for his paintings, Rembrandt also created approximately 300 prints. In his early career as a printmaker, he made many self-portraits to understand the potential expressiveness of the material. He continued to push the boundaries of printmaking‚ÄĒworking in larger formats, treating prints like quick sketches, and even treating the plate as a canvas by manipulating the ink on the surface, creating a painterly effect.

The Raclin Murphy Museum of Art has more than seventy examples of Rembrandt’s prints showcasing the breadth of his technique in the Fedderson Collection, generously donated in 1991 by Jack and Alfrieda Feddersen of Elkhart, Indiana. Their collection of Rembrandt‚Äôs religious and biblical subjects making were exhibited in the 2017 exhibition Rembrandt‚Äôs Religious Prints: the Feddersen Collection at the Raclin Murphy Museum of Art.¬†

What’s going on in this work?

In this intimate image, we see a man kneeling on a cushion next to his elaborate canopied bed. His hands clasped before him; he appears to frozen in a moment of prayer. Next to him on the floor lies a large harp. The figure is not just any man; this is the biblical King David. The harp and his rich surroundings identify him as such. Known as a singer of psalms and the hero who defeated Goliath, David was a devout follower of God. He was also a sinner and lived a portion of his life in penitence. 

Rembrandt is known for showing Old Testament events in his contemporary environment as a way to make the event more real for the people looking at his work. By depicting David praying in his bed-chamber, Rembrandt presents a unique image of him not as a king, a master of song, or a hero but merely a man praying. The humility of David’s pose contrasted with the seemingly lush and expensive items that surround him. Rembrandt’s skillful use of light pulls the eye through the print, and his composition invites viewers to join in prayer behind David. 


Take a closer look.

Click on the full image of the print above to see a larger version of David in Prayer. Look closely at the print and use these questions to guide your looking. Share your thoughts with your family, a friend virtually, or with us by responding to this email.  
  • What’s going on in this artwork? What do you see that makes you say that? Make a list of all the details you notice.
  • What is the mood of this print? What do you see that makes you say that?
  • Rembrandt was best known for his paintings; often, they were richly colored. If this print were one of his paintings, what colors do you think he would have used?  Why did you choose the colors you did? How do they add to the story being told in the image?  
  • The mighty King David is depicted humbly praying in this image. What do you want to pray for, meditate on, or keep in mind at this time?

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About the Article:

Engage with the Raclin Murphy Museum of Art by exploring their collection through background information and reflection questions. For more information on the collections, please visit the Raclin Murphy Museum of Art website.

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May 8, 2020

Art and HistoryArtArt HistoryBringing the Raclin Murphy Museum of Art to YouDigest184Raclin Murphy Museum of ArtReligious ArtUniversity of Notre Dame

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