Dated to c.1480, this 5in (12.5cm) tall painting on vellum of ‘King David in Penitence’ was one of two works by the Master of the Houghton Miniatures sold by Sotheby’s for £90,000.

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The artist to whom it is ascribed takes his name from a manuscript in Harvard’s Houghton Library and is associated with only a handful of other works, among them two miniatures in the Huth Book of Hours in the British Library.

When a miniature now in the Getty was sold in 1995 it was the first example of the artist’s work seen at auction in over a hundred years.

Shifting attributions

Attributions and associations change over such long periods and recent scholarship, notably that of Thomas Kren, links the artist responsible for these miniatures with Hugo van der Goes – perhaps someone working in his studio as an apprentice, or assistant. There is also a suggestion that his small recognised output may be because he worked primarily as a panel painter.

In this work David occupies the foreground, with a canal and late-medieval buildings seen behind him. Hands clasped, David kneels on a grassy terrace with his harp, crown, and sceptre laid on the ground beside him. He is depicted looking up at God in heaven, who holds an orb in his left hand and three arrows in his right.