John Singleton Copley was a renowned late-eighteenth century American-born artist, painting during both the American and French Revolutions. Living in Boston during his early professional years, Copley's outstanding skill encouraged a move to England, where he spent the remainder of his life. While in Europe he gained fame and prestige, frequently being commissioned by royal courts. It is unclear whether the work, Saul Reproved by Samuel (1798), was painted because of Copley’s own volition or was the result of a commission. What is known is that as Copley’s career matured, he began to see himself not only as a painter but also as a historian, bringing together the genres of history painting with portraiture.
Saul Reproved by Samuel is an example of Copley’s merging of history with imagination. The tension present in this dramatic scene, conveyed through contrasts of light and dark characteristic of Copley’s style, is Copley's best attempt to portray the biblical text literally and historically. As we read the text with the painting, we can ask ourselves, "Is scripture historical? How does the understanding of narrative biblical texts change according to the historical moment in which the reader lives?
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