William Sidney Mount created only a few paintings based on historical and literary scenes. This piece illustrates a passage from the Old Testament, in which Saul sought help from an oracle before going to war with the Philistines. The witch summoned the spirit of the prophet Samuel so that Saul could ask him for advice. In this painting, Saul and his men cower in horror as the ghost comes forward to speak to them (1 Samuel 28). This episode was familiar to nineteenth-century audiences who had been raised on scripture.
Credit Line: Text courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.