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Richard Dadd, 1817–1886, British

Death of Abimelech at Thebez

Watercolor, gray ink, and graphite on moderately thick, slightly textured, cream wove paper
Sheet: 14 1/8 x 10 1/8 inches (35.9 x 25.7 cm)

Inscribed in gray ink, upper left: "Death of Abimelech at Thebez ___ Draw thy sword, & slay me, that men may say not of me. A woman slew him. ___ Judges. IXVLIV."; in grey ink, upper right: "by Richard Dadd. Bethlehem Hospital. London | August 28th- | ___1855___"

Signed and dated in gray ink, upper right: "by Richard Dadd. Bethlehem Hospital. London | August 28th- | ___1855___"

Credit Line:
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
Copyright Status:
Public Domain
Accession Number:
Drawings & Watercolors
Prints and Drawings
Subject Terms:
armor | battle | blood | death | feathers | helmets | king (person) | men | Old Testament | plumes | sandals | shield | spears | swords | the tower of Thebez; death of Abimelech
Associated Places:
Ad Daffah al Gharbiyah | Asia | Palestine | Tubas
Associated People:
Abimelech (Judges)
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“Death of Abimelech at Thebez” is one of the biblical subjects Dadd painted while in Bethlem Hospital. It illustrates an episode from the Book of Judges in which the wicked king Abimelech, having killed his seventy brothers and the entire population of Sechem, besieges the city of Thebez. Receiving his mortal wound at the hand of a woman who throws a piece of millstone from the ramparts, Abimelech commands his armor bearer to dispatch him. Dadd’s painting shows Abimelech receiving the coup de grâce on a chaotic field of battle. Although some elements are certainly the products of Dadd’s inventive powers, such as the ruffs worn around the shins of some of the soldiers, others may have been informed by the sketches he made while traveling in the Middle East. The frieze-like arrangement of figures in a shallow compositional space is typical of Dadd’s work. It has been argued that the disposition of arms, legs, and spears owes something to Jacques-Louis David’s “Oath of the Horatii”, which Dadd knew and on which he drew in other paintings, such as “The Flight Out of Egypt”, painted in 1849–50 (Tate, London).

John Baskett, Paul Mellon's Legacy: a Passion for British Art: Masterpieces from the Yale Center for British Art, , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 2007, pp. 296-97, no. 115, pl. 115, N5220 M552 P38 2007 OVERSIZE (YCBA)

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