The dramatically innovative and strong works of the famous painter Caravaggio were an exciting source of inspiration to the impressionable young artists arriving in Rome from France and Holland in the early seventeenth century. Likened to a Roman Baroque style, Caravaggism particularly defines itself as a mastery of chiaroscuro (strong contrasts between light and dark) and a certain realism that dramatizes the composition. Among the most talented of the followers of Carravaggio was Valentin. His style was enriched by his contact with the Dutch Honthorst and the Spanish Ribera.
This King David with a Harp dates from about 1626-1627, when Valentin was at the peak of his short career. It employs a rich Caravaggesque chiaroscuro so that the figure’s sorrowful, introspective stare and hands holding the sceptre, harp and psalmatic sheet with Hebrew characters — all traditional imagery of David as king, musician, poet and psalmist — emerge forcefully into light.