(b. 1607, Antwerpen, d. 1678, Antwerpen)

Saul and David (detail)

c. 1635
Oil on panel, 58 x 79,5 cm (entire painting)
Szépművészeti Múzeum, Budapest

In this painting by the Antwerp pupil of Rubens, the scene from the Old Testament is depicted in a large Baroque palace. On an ornamental throne, emphasized by columns, stairs and velvet drapery, is King Saul in the traditional pose of meditation, immersion in thought and spiritual tension, with his elbow on his crossed legs and his hand propping up his head. In his right hand he holds a spear which, under the spell of an evil spirit, he will hurl at David momentarily. The youth playing his harp before the throne pays less attention to his instrument than to the explosive anger of the king, so that he can dodge the weapon.

The excited group of courtiers in the background also serve to heighten the drama of the episode. Their tempestuous feelings are expressed by distorted features: knotted brows, wrinkled foreheads and lips trembling with emotion. Even David's relief-bringing instrument, the arched harp, is decorated with a screaming monster-head. Such a dramatized presentation of biblical text is characteristic of Flemish Baroque painting, as well as of the spirit of Rubens' workshop, where this painting was created.

Suggested listening (streaming mp3, 15 minutes):
Johann Kuhnau: Saul Cured by David through Music (No. 2 of the 6 Stories from the Bible illustrated in music)