Virginio Grana, David and Michal, 1865, Accademia Ligustica di Belle Arti, Genoa, Italy, in the public domain.

The painting ‘David and Michal’ is a beautiful work by the artist Virginio Grana. It was painted less than 200 hundred years ago and its subject matter seems to be rarely painted at all. I believe this may be because King Saul’s youngest daughter gets a bad rap in the Hebrew Bible and not many artists have attempted to paint her. The relationship of David and Michal was a complicated one as Stephen has pointed out in his most recent blog post. Michal is remembered as the woman who scorned David as he danced into Jerusalem with the Ark and according to that text she was barren until her death.

My research has not allowed me to find any other works by the artist. I am going to assume that Virginio is a male, given the date of the painting because it was not until closer to the 20th century that female artists began to emerge in their own right. Women were not allowed to attend artistic academies and I doubt that many were allowed to take up apprenticeships. Grana was a pupil of the Ligustica Academy and completed his studies in 1862, settling in the Tuscan City. He participated in exhibitions and was elected academic of merit of the Ligustica. His works mostly had biblical themes and he created miniatures, small paintings and frescoes. I would hazard a guess that Virginio Grana never rose to great prominence but we rely on artists such as himself to paint subjects which in turn don’t receive much attention amongst famous historical artists and their works.

Grana accurately paints Michal as gazing adoringly at the figure of David as he plays his harp. She was described in the text as loving David and she certainly seems to here. The artist graciously paints her as being quite beautiful which perhaps explains the fact that her second husband adored her. She however gives the impression of being a tragic figure who was wrenched from her second husband and given back to David. The text does not say that David loved her. David is very modestly dressed in the painting and yet I cannot imagine that this would have been the case given David’s personality. It may simply have been a reflection of the modesty of the society in which the painting was created. The colours are quite pastel in shade perhaps conveying a gentle time in their relationship which Stephen accurately pointed out. She is beautifully dressed as a princess or queen should be although the fashion of her clothing may be closer to 1865 than thousands of years ago. Grana would have been painting for wealthy, polite society in the day and they wouldn’t have approved of too much flesh!!

The medium is oil paints on canvas and close observation reveals that the brush strokes are quite fine. However, there is a rather dull background in the painting which simply highlights the two figures in the foreground and the light coming from the ceiling falls on the figure of Michal, and her beauty and adoration of David is emphasised.

Michal is a rather sad figure in the Hebrew Bible and yet she may not have seen her life that way. She may have had five sons or raised five boys of her sisters. Perhaps she was a survivor of the political wars of the time between a powerful man and an ambitious one. And she may have known true love. After all she was a princess and a beautiful one.