Saul and the Witch of Endor

 
Artist
Creation date
Materials
pen, ink and bistre wash on white laid paper
Credit line
Gift of Arthur V. Brown II
Accession number
2002.164
Collection
Not Currently On View
Joseph Daniel Böhm (Lugt 271 and 1442); Paul Cassirer; Mrs. Katzenellen bogen. Arthur V. Brown II; given to the Indianapolis Museum of Art in 2002
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Indianapolis Museum of Art: Highlights of the Collection (2005)

Conjured by the Witch of Endor at the behest of King Saul, the spirit of the prophet Samuel materializes to foretell the doom of the king and the army of Israelites in their impending battle with the Philistines. With a few strokes of the pen and a simple wash of ink, the apparition of a visibly annoyed Samuel looms magisterially from the gloom of night and catches in his spectral glow the cowering figure of Saul. The high drama of this Old Testament ghost story is compressed into the space of this small work. Bearing all the hallmarks of the seemingly effortless pen-and-ink draftsmanship of Rembrandt, this drawing was reasonably attributed to that master into the 20th century.

By then, however, it had become apparent that there were far too many "Rembrandts" in circulation to be the master's work alone. Scholars concluded that Rembrandt's highly personal drawing style had been adopted by some of the many students and assistants in his active workshop. Fifty years ago, Saul and the Witch of Endor was securely reassigned to Ferdinand Bol upon the discovery of a painting by him for which this drawing was clearly a study. Bol, who entered Rembrandt's workshop as a student in 1636, was a valued assistant by 1640. Rembrandt might well have corrected his assistant's work with white watercolor, as was his custom.

[Bol] is one of the finest draughtsmen among the Rembrandt pupils. This applies, however, only to the time when he was with the master.
-Art historian W.R. Valentiner, 1957