David and Abigail, Vincent Malò, fourth decade of the 17th century


The painting, made in oil on canvas, depicts the encounter between King David and Abigail, as narrated in the biblical text from the First Book of Samuel (I Samuel 25, 1-34).
David, left without food in the desert with his army, asks for help from the rich Nabal, who scornfully denies him any help, ungrateful of the benevolence previously received from the king. On hearing the refusal, the king intends to take revenge by killing his entire race. Abigail, Nabal’s beautiful and wise wife, decides to right the wrong and bring David plenty of food and gifts. In the king’s presence the woman humbles herself, winning his forgiveness and benevolence. Shortly afterwards a widow, she becomes his bride.

The large scene describes the climax of the Old Testament episode, the moment when the woman prostrates herself before David and his servants prepare to deliver the gifts.
The biblical event is here a pretext, as is customary in modern-day painting, for staging the colourful description of a sumptuous procession, which can be divided into two parts, almost two wings of a crowd divided in a mirror image: on the left David with his dignitaries and the army; on the other, Abigail’s retinue, the handmaidens, servants leading dromedaries and donkeys laden with food.

The crowded group of figures is set against a natural proscenium: above a low horizon, barely hinted at by distant blue mountains, rises on the left side a craggy rocky cliff, the shelter of the army led by the sovereign.

Dimensions: cm. 112 x 158


Historical-critical analysis:

The somatic intonation of the characters, as well as the choice of metallic colours and the play of light on the shiny fabrics refer to a clear Flemish matrix, in particular to the influence of the frothy and sumptuous painting of Rubens and Van Dyck.

As clearly stated in the expert report drawn up by Professor Giuseppe Sava, the work is to be attributed to Vincent Malò, a painter originally from Cambrai (his date of birth varies between 1602 and 1606, he died in Rome in 1644) who trained in Antwerp as a pupil of David Teniers the Elder, but moved to Genoa after 1634, where his presence is repeatedly documented during the fourth decade, not only by the abundant number of commissions and signed works, but also by his role as tutor to Anton Maria Vassallo.

In the painting shown here, we find some of Malò’s characteristic pictorial stylistic traits, proudly Flemish in substance, particularly in certain somatic features, in the colour choices, and in the landscape setting, which can be found in several of his works: the predilection for redundant and scenic solutions that develop in a personal key the vogue introduced in Antwerp as in Genoa by Antoon Van Dyck; the brown and earthy tones contrasting with the light and diaphanous complexions of the figures; and again the arrangement of the amber draperies that reflect the light or the connotation of the elongated nosed faces; and finally the sensitive atmospheric rendering of the landscape, with skies made up of mixtures of grey and blue, interrupted by bristling rocky walls against which the figures stand out.

The painting is accompanied by the expertise of Giuseppe Sava.

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