REMBRANDT Harmenszoon van Rijn
(b. 1606, Leiden, d. 1669, Amsterdam)

Saul and David

c. 1655
Oil on canvas, 131 x 164 cm
Mauritshuis, The Hague

Catalogue number: Bredius 526.

The deep human suffering of the tyrant king was never expressed so well as in this work. Rembrandt, the greatest master of rendering the human soul in painting, filtered out of the twenty-five-hundred-year-old story what he had to say to his own seventeenth century Holland, while at the same time he fashioned a musical solution to spiritual suffering with the use of an eternal allegory of uplifting influence of artistic beauty.

The life-size bust figures of Saul and David appear in a narrow opening against the dark background. With this composition the painter created the most intimate connection between the viewer and the figures in the painting. Within the picture, however, there are two strikingly different worlds. The broken old king, weighed down by his sufferings, turn inward in his lonely torment, no longer raving and ready to attack. His is a faraway look, and he limply holds onto the spear. With his left hand he wearily draws the blue velvet curtain to hide his sadness dissolving into tears. The fragile figure of the young David playing the harp is outside the dark circle of this misery. The light bouncing off his white collar and cuffs emphasizes his head, gently bent over his instrument and his finely formed hands. He is totally involved with his music, which connects the two and unifies them in this, the purest moment of catharsis.

In 1969, the attribution of the painting to Rembrandt was rejected, but after a long period of study and treatment, the painting is once again considered to be an authentic Rembrandt.

© Web Gallery of Art, created by Emil Krén and Daniel Marx.