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The Triumph of David

The Triumph of David
painted and embossed leather panels, laid down on canvas
133 7⁄8 x 665 1⁄3 in. (340 x 1690 cm.), overall
(11)a set of eleven
Schönborn collection, Schloss Weissenstein, Pommersfelden, in the dining room (according to the 1732 inventory, see H. Kreisel, 1953, op. cit.), until 1855 where acquired by,
Baron James de Rothschild for the salon des Familles or salon des Cuirs of the château de Ferrières, Seine-et-Marne, then moved to the castle's dining room from 1960 to 1975.
By descent to the present owners.
Schloss Pommersfelden inventory, 1732.
(Possibly) J.G.T. Schaup et al., 'Inventarium über das Hochgräfflich Schönbornische Schloß Weissenstein ob Pommersfelden, denen darin befindlichen praetiösen Meüblen, Hausgeräthschafften, an Silber, Zihn und Kupfergeschirr ', MS, 1732, Pommersfelden Schlossbibliothek.
Anonymous, Beschreibung Des Fürtreflichen Gemähld- Und Bilder-Schatzes, Welcher in denen Hochgräflichen Schlössern und Gebäuen Deren Reichs-Grafen von Schönborn, Bucheim, Wolfsthal, [et]c. Sowohl In dem Heil. Röm. Reich, als in dem Ertz-Hertzogthum Oesterreich zu ersehen und zu finden, Würzburg, 1746, n.p., 'In dem Tafel-Zimmer, n°2', as 'Unbekant'.
(Possibily) G. Pögl et al., 'Inventarium über das hochgräffl: Schönbornische Schloß Weissenstein ob Pommersfelden, deren darin befindlichen pretiosen Mobilien, Hausgeräthschaft, incl: deren mit angemerckten vornehmen Mahlereyen: obwohlen selbe besonders inventiret an Silber, Zinn, Kupfer ', MS, completed on 16 December 1752, Pommersfelden Schlossbibliothek.
(Possibly) 'Inventar wie nach dem Ableden Sr. Eminenz am 28. November 1771 die Zimmer und Mobilien befunden wurden', Pommersfelden, 1771.
(Possibly) J. S. C. J. F. Haller von Hallerstein, Beschreibung des Schlosses im Tagebuch, around 1786, Heilig-Geist-Spital, Nuremberg.
(Possibly) Inventar über das Schloß Pommersfelden für das Jahr 1808, 1808.
M. Betham-Edwards, Holidays in Eastern France., London, 1879, pp. 33-34.
R. Peyre, 'Les galeries célèbres et les grandes collections privées. II. Ferrières', Le Correspondant, 168 (collection), 132 (new serie), 1892, p. 440 and pp. 447-448, as 'peinture [...] faite dans les Pays-Bas'.
P. Leroi, 'Le Baron Alphonse', L'Art. Revue mensuelle illustrée, Paris, 1905, 25th year, LXIV (V of the 3rd series), pp. 286-287, illustrated in situ, p. 289, as 'Govaert Flick'.
H. Kreisel, Das Schloss zu Pommersfelden, Munich, 1953, p. 34.
H. Demoriane, 'Le plus spectaculaire des châteaux bâtis en France au XIXe siècle, Ferrières', Connaissance des Arts, July 1963, 2, pp. 81 and 87, illustrated in situ pp. 86-87, as 'attribué à Ferdinand Bol'.
R. Teufel, 'Schloss Weissenstein ob Pommersfelden', Grosse Baudenkmäler, 1974, heft 65, p. 12.
W. Wegner, 'Das Problem einer Zeichnung der Rembrandtschule', Nederlands Kunsthistorisch Jaarboek (NKJ) / Netherlands Yearbook for History of Art, 23, 1972, pp. 127-128 (as 'Govert Flinck'), illustrated p. 128.
C. Frégnac and W. Andrews, The Great Houses of Paris, London, 1979, p. 79, illustrated in situ, p. 80.
G. de Rothschild, Contre bonne fortune, Paris, 1983, pp. 15-16, 40, 325 and 329, illustrated in situ, n.p.
P. Prévost-Marcilhacy, 'James de Rothschild à Ferrières: les projets de Paxton et de Lami', Revue de l'Art, C, 1993, p. 59, 66 and 72, under note 9.
P. Prévost-Marcilhacy, Les Rothschild bâtisseurs et mécènes, Paris, 1995, pp. 131 and p. 291, under notes 205-206. as 'attribué à Ferdinand Bol',
C. de Nicolay-Mazery, Hôtels particuliers de Paris. Visite privée, Paris, 1999, p. 24, illustrated in situ pp. 20-22.
J.-P. Fournet, Les cuirs dorés anciens en France, Paris, École du Louvre, 2004, unpublished thesis, IV, pp. 603, 605, 625, 646-670, illustrated in situ p. 651, 653, 656, 658 and 660, illustrated in situ pp. 652, 654-655, 657, 659, 661-663, 666-669, X, p. 1520.
J.-P. Fournet, 'Tentures et décors en cuir doré du XVIe au XVIIIe', L'Estampille L'objet d'art, May 2006, 413, pp. 62 and 74, as 'originaire des Pays-Bas du Nord et certainement peinte par un habile artiste de la suite de Rembrandt', illustrated p. 63.
J.-P. Fournet, 'Une exceptionnelle tenture de cuir doré conservée à Paris: Le triomphe de David victorieux', L'Estampille L'objet d'art, May 2006, 413, pp. 76, 78, as 'oeuvre du XVIIIe siècle, vraisemblablement originaire des Pays-Bas', illustrated in situ pp. 76-79.
C. Bonnot-Diconne, Dépose d'une tenture en cuir doré polychrome, July 2007, unpublished.
M. Hall, 'Bric-a-brac - A Rothchild's memoir of collecting (Ferdinand Rothschild)', Apollo Magazine, 165, 545, July-August 2007, p. 58.
Anonymous, 'La bataille de Gelboë', 2015 [online], Musée National de la Renaissance, https://musee-renaissance.fr/collection/objet/la-bataille-de-gelboe.
M. Barbier, 'La bataille de Gelboé, pièce rescapée d'une tenture en cuir des Rois d'Israël', La Revue des musées de France. Revue du Louvre, 2018, I, p. 102.
J.-P. Fournet, Cuirs dorés, "cuirs de Cordoue". Un art européen, Saint-Rémy-en-l'Eau, 2019, pp. 183, as 'Pays-Bas, milieu du XVIIe siècle', illustrated in situ p. 184, figs. 269a and 269b, pp. 310-312, figs. 429a, 430a, 430b and 433.
J.-P. Fournet, 'Comme cuirs dorés', La Gazette Drouot, 17 December 2020 [online], https://www.gazette-drouot.com/article/c-comme-cuirs-dores/16642.
J.-P. Fournet, 'Les cuirs dorés des collections Rothschild dans les institutions publiques françaises', in P. Prévost-Marcilhacy, L. de Fuccia and J. Trey (ed.), De la sphère privée à la sphère publique. Actualité du programme de recherches "Les collections Rothschild dans les institutions publiques françaises", symposium, Paris, Institut National d'Histoire de l'Art, 4-6 December 2018, published on 21 September 2021, pp. 186 and 188, under note 23.


Painted on a series of gilded leather panels, The Triumph of David is an exceptional work, unique in terms of its size, the ornamental quality of its decoration and its excellent state of preservation. Of all the 17th century historiated gilded leather hangings still in existence in Europe – and there are very few of them – The Triumph of David hanging is in a class of its own. Certainly its size, pictorial qualities and the majestic presentation of its figures against such an imposing architectural background make an immediate impression, testifying to the grandiose nature of its subject matter, but the painter also made use of a number of technical refinements. Although it has not yet been possible to precisely identify the artist responsible for its creation, its stylistic features are highly evocative of Rembrandt and his pupils, particularly in its effects of light and shadow, its deliberate use of contrasting colors, luxury and refinement, and its resolutely ‘Orientalist’ touch.

While its recent history over the last 170 years is fairly well documented, its precise dating and origin remain matters of speculation. Stylistically, the imagery is very much influenced by Renaissance art, with strong undercurrents of Antiquity, though there is also a strong affinity for Eastern décor and dress. The subject itself is drawn from the Bible (1 Samuel 17:32-51), which recounts the famous battle between David and Goliath, and, more specifically, reflects the triumphal procession that followed David’s victory after he had struck down his powerful adversary with a deadly stone hurled from his modest sling. Old Testament stories such as this were very much in vogue in the 16th and 17th centuries among tapestry designers and gilded leather manufacturers, particularly in the Southern Netherlands (now Belgium).

Although the workmanship is different, The Triumph of David may be compared with other painted gilded leather hangings preserved in Europe, notably in France at the Musée National de la Renaissance, Château d’Ecouen (Scipio; Roman Heroes; The Battle of Gilboa: see J.-P. Fournet, op. cit., 2004, pp. 588-624; 2007, pp. 77-85; 2019, pp. 16, 20, 180, 353; and the Château de Lunéville (destroyed in 2003, J.-P. Fournet, op. cit., 2004. pp. 625-646 ; 2019, 185), in England in Dunster Castle (J.-P. Fournet, op. cit., 2019, pp. 181, 197, 346.) and those lost to view at Walsingham Abbey (ibid., 2019, pp. 181, 197, 346), in Austria, those destroyed during the Second World War at the Austrian Museum of Art and Industry in Vienna (ibid., p 185); and in Sweden, the hangings at Stockholm Royal Palace (ibid., p. 221), Drottningholm Royal Castle (ibid., p. 182.), Stora Sundby Castle (ibid., p. 183, 222) and Torrups Castle (ibid., p. 182).

Comparison to these works, along with stylistic evidence, suggests that The Triumph of David, like the other hangings mentioned, should be dated around the middle of the 17th century. An earlier date cannot be accepted here, as the repoussé technique dates from the end of the first third of the 17th century (see J.-P. Fournet, op. cit., 2004, I, pp. 158-159). All of these hangings most likely originated in the Netherlands. Most were made in the Southern Netherlands, whose workshops excelled in this type of decoration on gilded leather, notably in Brussels. Since the 16th century, these manufacturers had been highly experienced in this type of production. They probably continued this production until the beginning of the following century.

The Triumph of David, however, differs from other historiated hangings in a number of key ways. While the subject is treated, as usual, in an original manner, with great elegance and study, on a technical level we note the total absence of chasing, though the repoussé method is used extensively, even if often in a localized way, notably to highlight certain details. At the same time, stylistically the hanging is decidedly ‘Rembrandtesque’. Together, these features suggest that this work is more likely to have originated in the Northern Netherlands than in Flanders

The originality of the representation and the refinement of its workmanship indicate that The Triumph of David must have been created by a talented painter. As is usual with gilded leather hangings, no signature or other indication of origin accompanies the composition. No known archival document related to this hanging mentions a name. Based on stylistic comparisons, we can only speculate on the identity of the artist who imagined and created this painted décor. One’s attention is immediately attracted by the impression of luxury that emanates from the whole, by the refinement of the details and the discernment with which the colors are applied. The rich costumes and imposing jewels of gold and gems bear witness to this, as do the elaborate, richly ornamented headdresses worn by some of the accompanying figures. The Orient is further evoked by the sumptuous objects carried by the figures in the procession, such as the large floral sheaths and the intricate gold vessels born by the women; above all, there are the large ceremonial turbans held by the men in their left hands.

The organization of the décor, the arrangement of clothes and hairstyles, the lighting effects and, above all, the expression on the faces and attitudes of the figures all suggest that the work was made by a 17th century Dutch painter. The name of Rembrandt himself has been put forward, and comparisons have been made with some of the figures in his paintings as well as his costume designs (fig. 1). Ferdinand Bol (fig. 2), his faithful pupil, has also been mentioned as a potential candidate. In 1985, Baron Guy de Rothschild put forward the name of Govaert Flinck, another Rembrandt follower (G. de Rothschild, op. cit., pp. 15-16).

In reality, however, nothing has been proven and uncertainty persists. Nevertheless, the style and workmanship are reminiscent of those of Rembrandt and his school. In their paintings, we find a comparable atmosphere, the same romantic faces with very similar hairstyles, the same picturesque polychrome turbans and large, loose, luxurious garments. In fact, along with Rembrandt, Bol and Flinck, many other names can also be mentioned in this context: Daniel de Koninck, Salomon Koninck, Gerbrandt van den Eeckout, Aert de Gelder Jacob de Wet and many others. We can temporarily conclude by saying that the author of The Triumph of David remains unknown at present, but that it is most certainly a painter from the Rembrandt School.

The earliest history of The Triumph of David hanging has yet to be fully elucidated. We know nothing about its origins or where it was made, nor do we know the artist who designed the program. On the other hand, the recent history of these gilded and painted leather panels is well established; records of them can be found in the mid-19th century at the Château de Pommersfelden in Germany, and later at the Château de Ferrières in Seine-et-Marne.

At the beginning of the 19th century, the hangings were part of the furnishings of Schloss Weißenstein in Pommersfelden in Franconia (southern Germany, near Bavaria; fig. 3). Its previous history is unknown, as are its provenance and how it was installed. In 1855, the Schloss Weißenstein collections were dispersed, and the gilded leather hanging was acquired by Baron James de Rothschild (P. Prévost-Marcilhacy, op. cit., 1995, p. 131). The conditions under which this acquisition was made are picturesque, and illustrate the artistic rivalries that existed within the Rothschild family at the time. In 1855, Anselme Salomon de Rothschild made a trip to Germany, during which he visited the Schloss Weißenstein; he returned enthralled by the gilded leather hangings he had seen there. On his return, he told his uncle James de Rothschild of his amazement, and of his desire to purchase this exceptional décor. 'Baron James did not move a muscle, nor did he say a word, but the next made up his mind and bought the hanging for the Château de Ferrières’ (Archives privées de la famille Rothschild; see P. Prévost-Marcilhacy, op. cit., 1995, p. 131 and p. 291, note 206), which he built in Ile-de-France, near Paris, between 1854 and 1862.

The gilded leathers from The Triumph of David remained at Ferrières for just over a century. They were initially installed in the Salon des Familles. The artist Eugène Lami, who played a key role in decorating the château, painted a watercolor around 1865 showing the layout of this salon (fig. 4). The hanging was not presented in a single piece, but fragmented into several panels separated by fireplaces, pilasters and door openings.

In the 1960s, when the château, which had suffered so much during the Second World War, was refurbished, the gilded leathers were removed and presented in a different way in the formal dining room (H. Demoriane, op. cit., 1963, p. 87). The décor was still not presented in a single piece, but in several panels, each made up of several strips. Some ten years later, the various panels that made up the wall hanging left the Château de Ferrières for good, remaining in the family's possession ever since.

The above is a reduced version of an unpublished essay by Jean-Pierre Fournet. We are very grateful to Jean-Pierre Fournet for his kind assistance in the preparation of it and for his permission to include the essay here in this format.

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