Arts & Culture


The Triumph of David

Nicolas Poussin1628-31

Dulwich Picture Gallery
Dulwich Picture Gallery

"Poussin's depiction of David's entry into Jerusalem with the head of Goliath (Samuel, Chapter 18) is one of his most studied and cerebral compositions.

David is not shown during his actual fight with the giant (such violence would have offended Poussin's notions of decorum) but in the triumphal aftermath. The procession passes through a representative section of humanity where every gesture and expression is significant. Equally deliberate is the sober contrast between the classical architecture and the rejoicing people."

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  • Title: The Triumph of David
  • Date: 1628-31
  • Physical Dimensions: w1483 x h1184 cm
  • Type: Painting
  • Medium: Oil
  • Work Notes: Engravings/Drawings: Two drawings are in the Royal Library, Windsor, and Chantilly. Engraved by S. Ravenet, with arms of Lord Carysfort.Based on an engraving after Giulio Romano (Giorgio Ghisi, "The Triumph of Scipio", ca. 1553).
  • Work Nationality: French
  • Support: Canvas
  • Provenance: Paris, Pierre Lebrun; sold to B. Vandergucht, London, bef. 1771; 2nd Lord Carysfort, by 1776; C. A. Calonne, c.1787; his sale, London, Skinner and Dyke, 26 Mar., 1795, lot 92. Bt Desenfans; London, Noel Desenfans, 1795-1807; London, Sir Francis Bourgeois, 1807-1811; Bourgeois Bequest, 1811.
  • Further Information: "In the Triumph of David, Poussin takes as his starting point two texts from the Book of Samuel, creating one of his most theatrical and elegant compositions. An ancient temple provides the architectural backdrop against which the action is staged. Above the podium of the temple, rhythmically interspersed between the fluted columns, men and women rejoice at David's triumphal entry. A crowd of spectators occupies the foreground and witnesses the event; a woman indicates David to her son, a man points to his forehead showing the exact location of the wound on Goliath's head. The central procession takes place between the two wings of people. Two men, playing trumpets, precede the biblical hero. Young David holds the impaled head of the Philistine giant and marches in front of a general riding a white horse, most likely King Saul. The entire scene is carefully arranged. Groups of three to four figures punctuate the composition, and the colours of their outfits - pale azure, rich mustard yellow, jade green - provide the chromatic structure of the painting. Poussin stages the figures overlapping in a meticulously orchestrated arrangement. The only isolated character is the main actor, David, who stands out in his fiery robe, highlighted by the sudden interval created, almost as if by accident, by the unyielding crowds. The dating of the canvas is highly debated. X-ray analysis shows that the composition was changed several times, both in the background architecture and in the foreground figures. While scholars have believed this proves a particularly long gestation for the painting (from the mid 1620s to the early 1630s) it is more likely that the Triumph of David did not necessarily remain in Poussin's workshop over several years but, instead, was probably carefully worked out in the early 1630s until the artist was happy with the final composition."
  • Artist: Nicolas Poussin
  • Acquisition Method: Bourgeois, Sir Peter Francis (Bequest, 1811)

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