Jacob van Oostsanen 1470 – 1533

Saul and the Witch of Endor

oil on panel (87 × 125 cm) — 1526 Museum Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

Jacob van Oostsanen biography

This work is linked to 1 Samuel 28:14

Tags: Saul

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Before going to battle with the Philistines, king Saul went to see a fortune teller. He wanted to know what Samuel, his dead counselor, thought and expected.

On Van Oostsanen's panel Samuel rises from his grave, behind the gate. He was angry for being disturbed and predicted disaster for Saul: he would lose the battle, and his sons would die at it.

It is unclear what all the figures in the scene depict. To the left Saul meets the fortune teller, in the town of Endor. In the front, she is sitting on a couple of owls, classic symbols of wisdom. Among the figures are satyrs: men with goat's legs. The panel may have served as a warning against witchcraft.

Below the fortune teller a note appears to be attached to the panel: a trompe-l'oeil. It reads "Aº 1526 noveb. 29" above the letters I and A and a monogram with the letter W: Van Oostsanen's usual signature.

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