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Saul under the Influence of the Evil Spirit (work of art)

Artwork Info

Modeled 1858–1863; carved 1864–65
64 x 34 x 64 1/2 inches (162.6 × 86.4 × 163.8 centimeters)
34 1/2 x 39 1/2 x 68 3/4 inches (87.6 × 100.3 × 174.6 centimeters)
Marble, Sculpture


Gift of Anne Faircloth and Frederick Beaujeu-Dufour in honor of John W. Coffey

Object Number
American to 1910

Key Ideas

  • This marble sculpture depicts a figure from a biblical scene. It shows King Saul being tormented by an evil spirit. It captures a moment of tension in the story, just before a musician named David played for the king and calmed him down. 
  • William Wetmore Story was an American sculptor known for his ability to create sculpted human figures with lifelike emotions. His sculptures were often inspired by figures from the Bible and ancient Greek plays. 
  • Story was living in Italy when he created this sculpture. He sculpted it before and during the American Civil War
  • A private collector bought the sculpture in 1865. It was kept out of public view for more than 150 years.

Learn More

According to the Hebrew Bible, Saul was chosen by God to be the first king of the Israelites. Saul lost God’s favor when he failed to follow his instructions. Then “an evil spirit from the Lord tormented him.” Saul’s attendants called for David, a musician, to play for the king and calm him down. This sculpture portrays King Saul being tormented by the evil spirit before David calms him by playing his lyre

William Wetmore Story worked as a lawyer before he became an artist. He moved to Italy, where he spent the rest of his life and career. Many of his sculptures were inspired by figures from the Bible or ancient Greek plays. He is known for his ability to realistically depict the emotions of sculpted human figures. Story created Saul under the Influence of the Evil Spirit before and during the American Civil War. He was living overseas in Rome at the time, where his studio was a popular gathering place of artists and writers. 

This sculpture was shown at the Dublin International Exhibition in Ireland after its completion. A wealthy Englishman purchased the sculpture and brought it to his mansion at Rendcomb Park. It remained there, out of public view, for 153 years. Rendcomb Park became a boarding school in 1920. The NCMA bought the sculpture from Rendcomb College in 2018. NCMA Conservation specialists cleaned the sculpture thoroughly before it was installed in the Museum. They used a variety of substances to clean it, including human spit.

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  • A life-sized white marble sculpture of King Saul seated on his throne against a black background. He wears robes, sandals, a belt, and a crown. His right hand clutches his long beard, and his left hand touches the handle of his dagger. His brow is furrowed.

    Saul under the Influence of the Evil Spirit

    marble sculpture