Art Guide - September 2019

Columban - Catholic Calendar Art Guide September 2019  

David and Saul, 1878 (oil on canvas) Josephson, Ernst (1851-1906)

The earliest Christians’ prayer included the psalms. These powerful expressions of praise and thanks to God were traditionally believed to have been composed by King David. The story of the Hebrew king and ancestor of Christ held a great appeal for artists. At once a great hero, the shepherd boy who becomes king of Israel was also a deeply flawed sinner. The Swedish artist portrays an early episode in David’s story. King Saul who is shown at right rules over Israel. Unfortunately Saul has disobeyed God and is tormented by evil spirits. Courtiers send for the young shepherd boy, David who is renowned for his skill on the lyre. David enters Saul’s service where he becomes a trusted servant of the troubled king. The scene depicted dramatises the contrast between the two figures. David (who will succeed Saul as king) appears as a young adolescent boy. Though David faces Saul the boy’s gaze suggests his playing is inspired by God. In contrast King Saul sits in shadow, his expression and pose evoke a mood of inner turmoil. While David’s youthful figure appears bathed in light the slumped figure of Saul appears trapped in a literally dark space. This dramatic use of light reminds the viewer of David’s future role as anointed King of Israel.

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