National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

Saul and the Witch of En-Dor. The grotesque necromancer of En-dor (right) raises the spirit of the dead prophet Samuel, before whom King Saul (left) falls to the ground. This fantastical scene appears in a watercolor (c. 1800) by William Blake, the English artist, poet and mystic.

Preparing to confront the Philistine army the next day, Saul in desperation seeks help from Samuel, his former mentor. An ancient legend relates that the witch sees the spirit of the departed Samuel but cannot hear him speak, while Saul hears him but does not see Samuel; that is why Saul asked the witch to describe Samuel to him and why only Saul hears the prophet pronounce his fate: “Tomorrow your sons and you will be with me; and the Lord will also deliver the Israelite forces into the hands of the Philistines” (1 Samuel 28:19).

Blake depicts the moment of Samuel’s prophecy. His penetrating gaze riveted on Saul, Samuel points ominously as Saul throws up his hands to ward off the decree.