David playing his harp to Micol
(Francesco Podesti)


Francesco Podesti was an Italian painter, active in a Romantic style. He was prolific in his large canvases on historical subjects. He is best known for his fresco work, including those in the Hall of the Immacolata in the Vatican Museum.


His precocious talent gained him a stipend to study at the Accademia di San Luca in Rome; this was partly subsidized by the Marquis Bourbon of Monte Santa Maria and by the city of Ancona. In Rome, he became a pupil of Gaspare Landi and Vincenzo Camuccini. The sculptor Canova served as a mentor and also helped him financially. In Rome, Francesco Podesti also met Jacques-Louis David who clearly influenced his style.


In 1824, he donated to the city of Ancona, two paintings of Eteocles and Polynices. It also gained him commissions for two altarpieces in town: an Annunciation for the church of the Vergine Annunziata, and a Martyrdom of St. Lawrence (1825–1827) in Ancona Cathedral (destroyed during World War II and replaced by a copy). The Prince Torlonia purchased from Francesco Podesti a large canvas of Tasso che legge la sua Gerusalemme alla Corte di Ferrara. Francesco Podesti was to make variants of this painting also for the Prince Galitzin and count Paolo Tosi of Brescia.


In 1826, then traveled through Italy. In Milan, by commission he painted a Raphael paints the Madonna of San Luca in his studio, with la Fornarina as a model, and monsignor Bembo and Bussolante in the studio. Also for the casa Busca, he frescoed  the Myth of Psyche.


Francesco Podesti returned to Rome in 1835–1836 to paint frescoes for Prince Alessandro Torlonia commissioned for the Villa Torlonia. In the first-floor gallery, he painted I fasti denti Dei; in the second floor, The myth of Diana. When the palace was demolished during the restructuring of Piazza Venezia, some frescoes were salvaged.  In 1835 he was elected to the Academy of St Luke.


Francesco Podesti painted a series of scenes of the Decameron, both original and copies, for patrons including the King of Naples, the Marchese Ala Ponzoni, and the sig. Giacomelli of Treviso. For the same marchese Ponzoni he painted a Rape of Persephone and The Rape of Europa –  subjects also duplicated for marchese Antonio Busca. For a Milanese banker he executed The Bath of Venus and The Judgement of Paris for an English patron. More copies were made by his pupils. For the Cathedral of Chiari he painted Santi Faustino e Giovita; for the Academy of Mexico The Angel of Justice, for King Carlo Alberto he completed the Judgement of Salomon. For this painting, he was awarded the Cross of Civil Merit of Savoy. Podesti refused the offer of a professorship at the Albertina Royal Academy at Turin. Later Francesco Podesti dedicated himself to the execution of a series of portraits of nobles and cardinals Lombard and Roman. He then moved into a large studio where he worked until 1869.


Francesco Podesti, together with Cammucini, Canova and Appiani was a leading Italian Neoclassical artist. His best paintings such as the present David playing his harp to Micol date from the 1840s. The painting was executed for the Princes Castelbarco in 1844 and exhibited at the Brere when it was the subject of a series of polemic criticisms. The painting was considered lost for one century until it reappeared in London at the Matthiesen Gallery and was published by Gian Lorenzo Mellini in 1992 and subsequently exhibited in Ancona in the Francesco Podesti monographic exhibition.


Francesco Podesti has been at pains to capture accurately an historic Hebrew interior combined with a sense of biblical Orientalism and neoclassical sense of polished flesh and colouring comparable to Hayez in its dependence on models derived from Ingres. Indeed when the painting was shown in Rome in 1844 the figure of Micol was criticised for resembling a seductive odalisque.


After defeating Goliath David was offered King Saul’s eldest daughter in marriage but refused feeling unworthy of such an honour. Micol, or Michal, the second daughter, fell in love with David and her father agreed on the condition he would go and fight the Philistines for him. Saul’s secret hope was to see David fall by the hands of the Philistines. When he returned victorious the king decided to have him murdered.


David then married Micol, and when Saul sent soldiers in the middle of the night to kill him, she helped him escape through a window. With David a fugitive,  Micol was given by her father as a bride to Palti. After Saul died in a battle against the Philistines, David demanded Micol back as his wife as a condition for his becoming king of Judah. His condition was met.


Alas they did not live ‘happily ever after’, After bringing the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem, David danced with all his might before the Lord, triggering his wife’s contempt: ‘Micol daughter of Saul came out to meet him and said, ‘’How the king of Israel has distinguished himself today, going around half-naked in full view of the slave girls of his servants as any vulgar fellow would!’’’ (2 Samuel 6:20). At this point in their lives the tension was palpable enough for the Bible to let us know David rebuked his wife, insisting on the fact she had remained childless. This biblical ‘fairy tale’ marriage led to so many dramatic events that David ended up choosing polygamy. Micol, who first betrayed her father, spoke against her husband and became an example of rebellious women in the Scriptures, chastised by remaining barren.


236 x 247 cm
Oil on canvas

Count Castelbarco
Private Collection England


E.Masi, il Giuramento del […] Francesco Podesti… Loreto 1856.

G. Elena, Guida critica all’Esposizione delle Belle Arti in Brera, Milan, p. 34-35.

A. Mauri, David e Micol, ‘Album. Esposizione delle Belle Arti in Milano’, VIII, pp. 9 and following.

P Mazio, David e Micol, in Il Saggiatore, I, pp 268-271.

P. Salvatico, Belle Arti, ‘Revista Europea’, II, 19-20, pp. 286-287

M. Colonna, Alcuni studii pittorici di Roma, ‘Museo scientifico, letterario ed artistico’, VIII, 33, pp. 262 to 263.

F. Podesti, Memorie biografiche, Labyrinthos, 1982, 1-2, pp. 2 to 3.

M. T. Barolo, Note alle memorie di Francesco Podesti, Labyrinthos, 1983, II, 3 to 4, pp. 148-149.

G.L.Mellini, Notti Romane e altre congiunture pittoreche tra Sette e Ottocento, Florence, 1992,  p.300, pl. 199.


Francesco podesti, Ancona, 1996, no. 28, p. 164

Historical Period
Neoclassicism - 1780-1820
Religious: Old Testament
Italian - Bolognese
Price band
$250,000 - $350,000