The Shade of the Prophet Samuel Invoked by King Saul and Conjured by the Witch of Endor

Antoine Coypel French

On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 690

Antoine Coypel was one of the leading French painters in the generation that straddled the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. He was influenced by Charles Le Brun and the art of Italy, but also by the manner and colorism of Rubens. He received many commissions from the King as well as from Philippe II, Duc d’Orléans, the future Regent and held prestigious appointments including that of the Director of the Académie Royale and the First Painter to the King.

This large, spontaneously executed sheet, full of brio and pentimenti, highlights the artist’s capacity for invention and taste for the theatrical. The episode depicted is from chapter 28 of the Book of Samuel in the Old Testament. On the eve of his battle with the Philistines at Gilboa, king Saul of Israel travels at night in disguise and with two male servants to Endor where there is a woman who is a medium. He asks her to summon the spirit of the prophet Samuel who predicts that Saul will be defeated and killed the following day. Coypel emphasizes the ominous mood by placing the figures against a backdrop of dark clouds, skulls, and owls.

A small, preliminary sketch in red chalk at the Ecole des beaux-Arts, Paris (PM 1102) is an earlier idea for the same subject. No surviving painting is known.

The Shade of the Prophet Samuel Invoked by King Saul and Conjured by the Witch of Endor, Antoine Coypel (French, Paris 1661–1722 Paris), Black and red chalk

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