Thursday, December 31, 2009

OLD PAINTINGS OF WOMEN



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Susanna in the bath is by the German Symbolist and Art Nouveau painter Franz von Stuck (1863-1928). Although it's important for him to show a nude there are still other more interseting things. First Stuck renounces the naturalistic style. He preferes something more ornamentical and geometrical. It's all symbol, from the surprised women and the two menacing figures to the bathroom slippers.



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Susanna in the Bath (1913)

This example of Ruth is by Francesco Hayez (1791-1882) the leading artist of Italian Romanticism. Ruth is wearing the clothes of an Arab women, which means Orient, and she has a bunch of grain in her arm, which indicates that she is Ruth.

I don't understand why she must be naked. Because this isn't mentioned at all in the Bible. Probably its a concession to contemporary taste, which liked so much semi-nude oriental women.

Ruth (1835) 

Susanna was the wife of Joakim, at whose house the elders of the Jews met to held their trials. On their way to a meeting two of these judges secretly observed Susanna taking her bath in the garden. On her way back they threatened her to tell that she was meeting a young man in the garden if she didn’t make love to them. Despite this false accusation by two judges would have the cruel death by stoning as a consequence Susanna refused and was arrested.

In her trial arrived the Prophet Daniel and started a separated interrogation of the two elders and revealed by this their false evidence. Finally the two were put to death by stoning.

This apocryphal story always was considered as an example of the triumph of virtue, or even as an early example of a good juridical investigation and the use of cross-examination. But for artists is was above all a good chance to show a beautiful woman without any clothes. It’s is possible that Susanna is the most painted nude of the Bible.

Susanna and the Elders (1570s)

This is an relatively early painting by the Italian Renaissance artist Paolo Veronese(1529-1588). So nudity wasn't his primary goal. He was more interested in the elegant Renaissance clothing and the gestures of the two judges.

This Salome-painting is by the most important Italian Baroque painter Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571–1610). Impressive and new are the light effects for which Caravaggio became famous.
But for us is the old women more interesting. She's probably Herodias the mother of Salome, who persuaded her daughter to demand the head of John the Baptist. She was the mastermind behind that campaign and is looking satisfied on the head of her adversary. In contrast Salome her daughter seems disgusted in some way.

Salome receives the Head of Saint John the Baptist (1607-10)

This interpretation of Esther is by the French painter Théodore Chassériau (1819-1856).
He was a student of Ingres and therefore its in a typical classical linear style, nearly two-dimensional. But also there is a romantic influence with its strong colours and the orientalistic touch.

Toilet of Esther (1841)


Abraham casting out Hagar (1837) by the French artist Emile Jean Horace Vernet (1789-1863).

Surprising may be the great similarity with the engraving by Doré. But Doré did it nearly 30 years later and so its clear where he got his ideas from.

Also interesting is the orientalistic look which gave Vernet the scene. Abraham is an real Arab chief. Only the (too) little boy reminds of a typical classical painting. Why has he to be naked? Maybe this should emphasize his helplessness.


King Ahasuerus (Xerxes) held a big feast in his capital Susa. But when he wanted his queen, Vashti, to appear and show her beauty, she refused to do so. Because of that she was banished and the king looked for a new women. After a long selection he chose Esther because of her great beauty. Esther was a Jew but didn't tell this the king. Later Haman a powerful prince plotted against the Jews in the Empire and tried to convince the king to kill them all. At last Esther suceeded in convincing the king of the plot and to save the live of all the Jews in Persia.

As a result of Esther's intervention and her influence, the Jews lived in Persia untill our time.

Esther (1844) by the French painter Francois Leon Benouville (1821-1859) .


Comparing this two paintings the most surprising thing for me is their similarity. The heads are nearly the same. Nevertheless they illustrate two totally different stories. First we see Judith with the head of Holofernes and then Salome with the head Of St John The Baptist.

Both were painted by Lucas Cranach the Elder in the 1530s. But the resemblance of the two figures wasn't only his problem, it stretches through art history. Many times Judith and Salome seemed to be the same person.

There are only a few signs that could help to distinguish them.

Judith with the Head of Holofernes

Typical for Judith is the sword, because she did the killing herself. But there are some cases when Salome too is shown with a sword.

Salome with the Head Of St John The Baptist

Very typical for Salome is the plate. If she's not performing her famous dance she's nearly every time wearing ist - Judith never.


The passionate and deadly love of Salome is the subject of the French painter French Lucien Lévy (1865-1953) a typical fin de siècle artist.

Salome (1896)


During a famine an Israelite family emigrated from Bethlehem to the land of the Moabites where the two sons married the Moabite women Ruth and her sister Orpah. But when all the male members of the family died there are only Naomi the mother and her two daughters-in-law left. Naomi decided to return to Bethlehem but only Ruth was willing to go with her and said the famous words: "For wherever you go, I will go; And wherever you lodge, I will lodge; Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God. Where you die, I will die, and there will I be buried."
Ruth accompanied Naomi to Bethlehem and worked there hard as a gleaner on the fields of Boaz a relative of Naomi. Later Ruth married Boaz and they have a son called Obed who is the the grandfather of David.

Ruth is usually regarded as an example of loyalty.

Ruth in the Fields (1876)

The painting is by the French artist Hugues Merle (1823-1881) a student of Léon Cogniet and a friend of William Bouguereau.


The most famous images with a modern aspect are from the English Art Nouveau illustrator Aubrey Vincent Beardsley (1872–1898). He got the idea from Oscar Wilde's play and made the illustrations for it, which were published with the edition from 1907. 
 
 
Because Sarah the beloved wife of Abraham thougt she couln't become pregnant she gave her husband her Egyptian slave Hagar as a second wife. Hagar hat with Abraham a son whom she named Ishmael. With the years there aroused more and more problems between the two women. Sarah was the first, but Hagar was the mother of Abramhams son. These problems culminated after fourteen years when Sarah herself gave birth to Isaac. After new quarrels she demanded now the expulsion of Hagar and Ishmael. In the region where Abraham where living with his family this was like a death sentence. So Abraham was at first reluctant to send them into the mortal desert. But when God supported the demands of his wife and
promised to take care of Ishmael, Abraham resited no longer.

Alone in the wilderness Hagar and Ishmael ran out of water. When they where near to death an angel appeared and showed Hagar a well. Later Ishmael became the forefather of the Arab people.

In this story there are some different aspects which interested western artists. At first there is the terrible expulsion of the helpless mother and her child. The second is how the both where near to neath in the wilderness and then saved by an angel. Some artists depicts how Sarah presents Hagar to her husband, Ishmael as an archer or other scenes. But above all remain the two: the expulsion and the saving by the angel.


Paul Gustave Doré (1832–1883) was a French artist and engraver. 1866 he made the illustrations for an English Bible, from which these pictures are taken.
Dore ist not the most important artist. But as a very popular engraver his pictures are comprehensive to art history. He is using the most symbols and arangements which are typical for the paintings of better artists. There is the the exaggerated pose of Abraham, the little child - it must have been at least 16 years at this time. In the wilderness its dark, Hagar is praying like on a stage and in front there is the empty jar.
All is arranged like a scene from a silent movie.  


Tamar was the widow of the two eldest sons of the patriarch Judah. Both had "spilt their seed" practising coitus interruptus and had been killed by God because of that. Tamar stayed childless what meaned without any impotance in that kind of society. So she demanded from Judah the marriage to the brother of her dead husband, which was her good right. But Judah who believed she was cursed wouldn't give her another one of his sons. To become pregnant she disguised herself as a prostitute and waited at the road for Judah. She accepted his tribal leader's staff, his personal seal and cord as a pledge for the later payment of a goat.

Some months later when it became obvious that she was pregnant, Judah condemned her to be burnt to death as a whore. But then Tamar sent him his staff, seal and cord, proving that he himself was the father of her child. So Judah accepted the children (she got twins) and took Tamar in his house.

This painting from 1840 is by the French artist Emile Jean Horace Vernet (1789-1863) . Vernet was a battle and history painter and shows how Tamar uses the only weapons she had to outsmart the old hypocrite patriarch, who would condemn to death a poor prostitute but in spite of that would buy her services. 
 
 
To show the vast spectrum of interpretations here a Salome from the beginning of the 20th century from the German Symbolist and Art Nouveau painter Franz von Stuck (1863-1928).


In fin-de-siecle decadence Salome is synonymous with the femme fatale, popularized by Oscar Wilde. She is performing the Dance of the Seven Veils - a pure invention of Wilde.  



This Salome is by an unknow flemish painter. Its late Gothic and in many parts still medieval.
But the painting already has all the important signs: the executioner with his sword, the head of St. John and the plate, which was very important in art to distinguish Salome from Judith.

Interesting are the two peacocks in the back as symbols of resurrection and immortality.




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