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King David, whose life is told in the Old Testament in the Books of Samuel, was the first king of a united Israel, and the founder of a dynasty. He was both astute and brave but not, however, completely virtuous; his adulterous desire for Bathsheba, whom he watched at her bath, is the subject of many paintings.

In the southern (Judean) kingdom, the Davidic line was the only legitimate dynasty. Christ is reckoned to be of the line of David by virtue of Saint Joseph's descent. In altarpieces King David is often shown among the biblical figures. He is sometimes represented playing a harp; he is recorded as a musician and traditionally is supposed to have composed the Psalms. Also popular is the story of his slaying, with a stone from his sling, of the giant Goliath, a great enemy of Israel. This deed was accomplished in his youth.