Macklin's Bible was one of the great publishing ventures of late 18th-century London, of which Boydell's Shakespeare was the best known. Engravings were based not on drawings but on paintings which could be exhibited in the publisher's gallery, and were usually available both separately and in deluxe editions with texts available by subscription.
De Loutherbourg provided 22 of the total of 71 full-page illustrations published in eight volumes from 1791 onwards, together with nearly all the headpieces.
In 1800, when a new edition in six volumes was published, de Loutherbourg's illustration of Saul and the Witch of Endor was replaced by an engraving by R. Shipster based on a much earlier painting by Benjamin West of the same subject, painted in 1777 (Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, Connecticut; H. von Erffa and A. Staley, The paintings of Benjamin West, New Haven and London, 1986, pp. 77-84, and 311-12, no. 275, illustrated in colour, p. 83).
Perhaps because of its replacement, de Loutherbourg's picture is not listed in the catalogues of Macklin's exhibitions in the Pall Mall Gallery of 1791, 1792 or 1793, nor does it appear among the 23 paintings of Biblical subjects by de Loutherbourg and other artists that were sold with Macklin's collection of "Modern Paintings" by Peter Coxe, Burrell and Foster at Mr. Squibb's Grand Rooms, Saville Row, London on Monday 4 May 1806 (and the four following days); perhaps it had already been sold by Macklin immediately after it was engraved (for de Loutherbourg and the Macklin Bible see Tate Gallery Report 1968-70, London, 1970, p. 65; Rüdiger Joppien, Philippe Jacques de Loutherbourg, R.A., 1740-1812, exhibition catalogue, Iveagh Bequest, Kenwood, London, June-August 1973, introduction and nos. 69-70; Hans Hammelmann and T.S.R. Boase, Books Illustrations in Eighteenth-Century England, New Haven and London, 1975, pp. 8-9 and 60; and Morton D. Paley, The Apocalyptic Sublime, New Haven and London, 1986, pp. 55-68).
The story of King Saul, first King of the Hebrews, and the Witch of Endor occurs in the first book of Samuel, xxviii, 6-25. Saul, fearful of the invading Philistine army, seeks help from God and 'the Lord answered him not'. He then turns to the witch of Endor, whom he visits in disguise and at his entreaty she envokes a visit of the ghost of Samuel, here seen on the left. The writing in the left foregound is typical of the de Loutherbourg's interest in magical, astrological and Hebrew studies. Two year earlier, on 15 April 1789, the Morning Post had over pessimistically reported that "this Gentleman [de Loutherbourg] is so entirely governed at this moment by a degree of pious enthusiasm, that he had wholly renounced his profession [as artist], and means to devote the remainder of his life to the explication of the HEBREW TEXTS". The artist's sale (Coxe, Burrell and Foster, 1812) included a number of expositions of the Talmud at the Kabbalah, and these interests appear in a number of the artist's other illustrations to Macklin's Bible (see Paley, op.cit., pp. 63-8).
We are grateful to Martin Butlin for his assistance in cataloguing this lot.