Sunday, June 7, 2015

Anointed By...

In this week's text from Hebrew scripture (I Samuel 15:34 - 16:13, Proper 6B/Ordinary 11B/Pentecost 3), David is anointed. But who does the anointing? Samuel, right? That's who does the earthly anointing of David. That's who anointed Saul before him. But of course, it is God who is really withdrawing favor from Saul and choosing David to be Israel's next king. Most artists stop with Samuel. Samuel holds the horn. Samuel pours the oil. Samuel stands as the king-to-be kneels before the priest.

There is another way, though. The version shown below, by American artist Guy Rowe, tells a different story. Rowe (1894-1968), born in Salt Lake City, reminds us that any anointing is God's and it comes from above.
In this version, one of Rowe's illustrations for In Our Image: Character Studies from the Old Testament (Oxford University Press, 1949), the visual order is turned on its head...or it's in perfect order, depending on how you look at it. At the center is the one being anointed. His maturity might lead us to believe this is Saul's anointing, but the lack of visual clues leaves this work able to represent almost any anointing. The future king's head and face are above the face of the priest Samuel, which reflects earthly governmental hierarchies. It's still a bit unusual when compared to the usual compositional arrangement (as mentioned above, with the candidate kneeling before the priest).

The placement of the anointing oil is perhaps most telling detail. Samuel raises his left hand and arm from the bottom corner of the composition and pours out the oil onto the candidate's head. The oil, a symbol of God's favor and choosing, is at the top of the picture, above all human faces.

It is a physical reminder that the anointed one is God's choice, not human choice. Though this week's text is about replacing Saul - truly a less-than-excellent king - Saul is replaced by David - who has his own moments of weakness. Humanity's best choice would be to stick with acknowledging only God as king. But that's a lesson the people have yet to learn.

For Guy Rowe, see: http://www.gyre-gimble.com/Guy_Rowe_American_Artist/Guy_Rowe.html In Our Image is out of print but available through several used book websites.

For a contemporary version of an anointing horn (and perhaps that's the identification clue needed to interpret the art
above...a horn is mentioned in this week's lectionary account of David's anointing but no horn is mentioned in last week's anointing of Saul), see this week's Facebook post for Art&Faith Matters. The link is below.

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