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Gallery Text

This depiction of the Old Testament episode of Samuel anointing Saul is set in a bizarre landscape, surrounded by decrepit ruins, in an indeterminate place. Painted in a murky grisaille (shades of gray), the monochromic effect makes it difficult to establish a time of day, while the stretched perspective of the receding city walls complicates the sense of space, raising the question of what lies within the walls. A structure that at first glance appears to be a Roman triumphal arch on closer inspection depicts scenes that seem more Christian than pagan. By building up the sculptural figures with dense layers of white paint, the artist invites the beholder to question what is real (tactile) as opposed to depicted (seen). François de Nomé’s dreamlike architectural fantasies anticipated capriccio painting — a genre of architectural fantasy — in the next century. His work also appealed to the surrealists in the twentieth century.

Identification and Creation

Object Number
François de Nomé, French (Metz, France c. 1593- after 1644 Naples, Italy)
Samuel Anointing Saul
Work Type
c. 1625-1650
Persistent Link

Physical Descriptions

Oil on canvas
118 x 152 cm (46 7/16 x 59 13/16 in.)
framed: 134.5 x 169 x 8 cm (52 15/16 x 66 9/16 x 3 1/8 in.)
Inscriptions and Marks
  • stamp: verso: one diamond-shaped and one round stamp, faded and illegible [grouping twice on the verso of the canvas and once on the stretcher, one of the canvas pairings with additional faded date stamp; the diamond-shaped stamp identical to the Italian import/export stamp on verso of TL41109.2]
  • stamp: verso, canvas, center left, round stamp: [faded and illegible, possibly featuring a date at the center]
  • label: verso, stretcher, upper right, printed inventory label with number written in red ink: Inventar / Nr. 1992
  • label: verso, stretcher, cream-colored label with brown ink inscription: O.B.9564
  • stamp: verso, stretcher, round stamp: Bundesdenkmalschutz [otherwise illegible, almost certainly Austrian]


Recorded Ownership History
Prince Bourbon Parma, Schwarzau, Austria. Oskar Bondy, Vienna, Austria. [Galerie Sanct Lucas, Vienna, Austria, sold]; to Paul E. and Gabriele B. Geier, Rome, Italy, 1953, bequest; to Harvard Art Museums, 2012.


1. Provenance research continues for this object, particularly since it was once in the Oskar Bondy collection which was confiscated in Vienna in 1938. The painting does not appear in the records of the Munich Central Collection Point from which many Bondy collection objects were shipped back to Austria and later returned by the Austrian government to the family. The painting was not included in the March 3, 1949 Kende Gallery, New York sale of restituted objects offered by Bondy’s widow, Elizabeth Anna. Mrs. Bondy, who died in 1974, also sold various works privately through Blumka Gallery and other dealers.

2. For the reference to the Prince Bourbon Parma collection see “The Fantastic Visions of Monsù Desiderio,” John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota, FL, 1950.

Acquisition and Rights

Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Bequest of Paul E. and Gabriele B. Geier
Accession Year
Object Number
European and American Art

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Publication History

  • Louis Réau, "Deux tableaux inédits de 'Monsù Desiderio'", Beaux-arts (Paris, August 10, 1942), no. 74, p. 4, repr.
  • John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, The Fantastic Visions of Monsù Desiderio, exh. cat., Florida Graphic Arts, Inc. (Sarasota, FL, 1950), p. 14, cat. 65 p. 28, repr. p. 73 as pl. XLV
  • Félix Sluys, Didier Barra et François de Nomé, dits Monsu Desiderio, Éditions du Minotaure (Paris, France, 1961), pp. 9, 32, 78, repr. p. 78 as fig. 44
  • Maria Rosaria Nappi, François De Nomé e Didier Barra: l'enigma Monsù Desiderio, Jandi Sapi (Milan, Italy, 1991), no. A 52 p. 111, repr.
  • Sebastian Smee, "Frame by Frame: The Mystery of 'Samuel Anointing Saul'", The Boston Globe (April 7, 2015), p. G3, repr.

Exhibition History

  • The Fantastic Visions of Monsù Desiderio, John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota, 02/01/1950 - 02/01/1950
  • 32Q: 2210 West Arcade, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 11/16/2014 - 04/02/2019

Related Works

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