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Mercy: David Spareth Saul's Life
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This scene wasn’t a particularly popular biblical scene at the time to paint, but held a few parallels to Richard Dadd’s life.

If you were out for a walk and found a man asleep with a spear planted in the ground beside his head you’d probably think, “Hey, I’m going to not murder this guy.” Or even more likely, the thought of murder wouldn’t cross your mind at all. In King David’s case, it wasn’t so simple. The man he found asleep had tried to murder him, repeatedly.

David’s buddy tried having his back in a bit of a murderous way offering to kill Saul for him, but David wouldn’t hear of it. They took the spear with them and peaced out, so when Saul woke up he put the pieces together and realized his life had been spared. After that, they were on good terms and Saul stopped trying to kill him, happy ever after.

Our artist had a lot going on that likely contributed to choosing this particular moment to paint. Shortly after beginning his career, Dadd was hired as a draughtsman for a traveling expedition. All was going well until a particularly brutal trek up the Nile river when Dadd started to experience delusions. He became convinced that he was under the command of the god Osiris.

Upon returning home, he became further convinced that his father was the Devil and that Osiris was commanding him to kill him. Sadly, Dadd’s delusions overtook him and he was imprisoned in a mental asylum after the murder of his father. While there, he was encouraged to continue painting. Mercy: David Spareth Saul’s Life was among numerous works he produced during his time in the asylum along with other more widely known pieces such as The Fairy Feller’s Master Stroke. Likely the choice of subject matter was meant as a sort of catharsis, either chosen by Dadd or recommended by one of his doctors. 

Sources

Sources

  1. Deffinbaugh, Bob. “16. David's Divine Deliverance (1 Samuel 18:30-19:24).” 16. David's Divine Deliverance (1 Samuel 18:30-19:24) | Bible.org, 25 May 2004, bible.org/seriespage/ davids-divine-deliverance-1-samuel-1830-1924.
  2. Lippincott, Louise. “Murder and the Fine Arts; or, a Reassessment of Richard Dadd.” The J. Paul Getty Museum Journal, vol. 16, Getty Publications, 1988.
  3. “Mercy: David Spareth Saul's Life (Getty Museum).” The J. Paul Getty in Los Angeles, www.getty.edu/art/collection/objects/807/richard-dadd-mercy-david-sparet...'s-life- english-1854/.
  4. Prasad, Vaijayanti. “Richard Dadd Detailed Biography, Book, Poem, Early Life and Paintings.” Richard Dadd Detailed Biography, Book, Poem, Early Life and Paintings, victorian-era.org/richard-dadd-detailed-biography.html.