'The Seed of David', Dante Gabriel Rossetti
Oil on canvas, painted 1858-64, Centre: 230 x 150cm; wings 185.5 x 62cm, Llandaff Cathedral, Cardiff. Image by courtesy of RJL Smith of Much Wenlock
Commissioned in 1856 for the main altar of Llandaff Cathedral.
The central Nativity is flanked by side panels of David as a shepherd, about to kill Goliath, and David as King, playing the harp. David was the ancestor of Christ.
Rossetti wrote that the painting showed 'Christ sprung from high and low in the person of David, who was both Shepherd and King, and worshipped by high and low - a King and a Shepherd - at his nativity'. The imagery was designed to be democratic, appropriate for the cathedral's aim of bringing all classes together for worship.
The Virgin in the earlier watercolour is of the Elizabeth Siddal type. Ruth Herbert was the original model for the Virgin in the altarpiece, but in 1861 the face of Jane Morris was substituted. William Morris, then aged 27, sat for David as King.
The more rounded, fully modelled style of this piece was influenced by Rossetti's growing enthusiasm for Venetian art. John Ruskin, who wished to purge Rossetti's work of its quaintness and minuteness, encouraged this development.