Julius Kronberg, Cleopatra, 1883, Minneapolis Institute of Art, in the public domain.

By Stephanie Cook.

Stephen’s last post put a different spin on the relationship between David with Saul, with David coming out as the victor in the political wars of the time. Saul is portrayed as a bad king whose throne was given to another man, David. The painting of ‘David and Saul’ by the above mentioned artist is a beautiful rendition of the traditional relationship that we read about in the Hebrew bible where David plays soothing music for the troubled king.

Johan Julius Ferdinand Kronberg (1850 – 1921) was a Swedish artist and decorative painter. He was born in Karlskrona and he studied in Sweden and Germany. At the age of thirteen, he was admitted to the Royal Swedish Academy of Fine Arts. He studied and learnt his craft and eventually won a scholarship which enabled him to travel to various part of Europe. He is known to have deliberately lightened his palette as his career progressed. Upon examining the painting of ‘David and Saul’ one is struck by the rich, opulent colours which give the painting its alluring vibe. This use of beautiful colours is also observed in ‘Cleopatra’, 1883. He may have lightened his palette to move with the times as a decorative painter but my personal preference is for rich, opulent colours of ‘David and Saul’. He was a decorative painter who often used biblical themes in his work as well as motifs from Shakespeare. After his death in 1921 in Stockholm, his studio was bequeathed to the Nordic Museum and was moved to Skansen, an open air museum and zoo. It served as the setting for the cover photograph of the pop group ABBA’s 1981 album, The Visitors.

Julius Kronberg, David and Saul, 1885.

Kronberg gives great attention to detail in the painting of the two men. It has a sensuous air and could even have been painted in a harem. I can see why Stephen’s impression was that of two men who had a close relationship, however, I’m not sure that Saul, as king, would have had any idea that one day David would be king in his place. The richness of the colours chosen by the artist reflect the wealth of king Saul and the beauty of his palace. The detail given to the lyre is stunning and we feel, as observers, that we could just reach out and pluck a string for ourselves. The motif on the back wall of the palace looks to have a Persian influence, although this could have simply been the fashionable style of appearance of the times in which the painting is depicted. Saul is painted as a handsome man while David is just a youth. This is in keeping with the biblical account. The light comes from the left and above the figures as it seems to pour in from the window at the top of the painting. The column is beautifully rendered with the lions traditionally representing royalty, strength and grace. The two men seem lost in their companionship, unaware of how history would depict each of them into the future. Even the rug on the stone flooring is given intricate detail. It is interesting to observe that some decorative styles never date, even hundreds of years later.

As an art historian I never get tired of discovering new paintings and artists’ styles. Some I prefer more than others but it is always interesting to observe how the artist reads and interprets biblical stories through each individual’s unique lens.