David in penitence highlights another aspect of the Psalms. According to tradition, David composed these Psalms after the Prophet Nathan exposed to him the gravity of his transgression with Bathsheba. King David beheld Bathsheba as she was bathing and he was filled with lust. After committing adultery with her, David had her husband killed in order to cover his wrong-doing (see II Kings [II Samuel] 11-12). Psalm 51 conveys David's penitence for these sins. Illuminations either show David as he beholds Bathsheba bathing, or they depict him in penitence after the act. The illuminations set the penitential tone for the text that follows.
The Penitential Psalms are, according to the numeration of the Vulgate Latin Bible, Psalms 6, 31, 37, 50, 101, 129, & 142. Cassiodorus, a sixth-century monk, first named these the “Penitential” Psalms. In Books of Hours from the 13th and 14th centuries, an illumination of “Christ as Judge” or “Christ as King of Heaven” introduced the Seven Penitential Psalms. By the 15th century, David in penitence or scenes from David's life introduces the psalms. The illumination of Christ as Judge hearkens back to the early use of these Psalms in the Church as prayers of repentance and lamentation.