The Triumph of David
One of Poussin’s first great masterpieces, The Triumph of David demonstrates the artist’s increasing concern in the early 1630s with employing harmonious design to instil a sense of structural clarity to the human expression and dramatic storytelling in his paintings. Taken from the Bible’s Book of Samuel, the scene depicts David’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem after defeating the Philistines’ champion Goliath of Gath, an eight-foot giant who David had outwitted by striking his forehead with a well-aimed stone from his sling. The cheering crowd that meets David upon his return provided Poussin with the opportunity to explore the theatrical language of human gesture from numerous angles; from the solemn thanksgiving of an old man, and the joyful abandon of young women with their arms held high, to the incomprehension of small children as they nestle and play in their mothers' arms.
To provide coherence to these varying reactions to the dramatic events unfolding, Poussin inserts the steady rhythm of a temple front setting and arranges the figures in three parallel planes, an arrangement that derives from Domenichino’s fresco of the Flagellation of Saint Andrew in the oratory of San Andrea in San Gregorio al Celio, Rome. The trumpet players at the centre anchor the composition, acting as the fulcrum around which the meticulously placed figures rotate. The only isolated character is the main actor, David, who stands out in his fiery robe, highlighted by the sudden interval in the jostling crowd. An x-ray of the canvas shows that Poussin reworked the composition several times, both in the background architecture and in the foreground figures, before finally settling on this arrangement, leading to much debate over the painting's date.