Thursday, December 31, 2009


Lot and his daughters (1833) by the Italian painter Francesco Hayez (1791-1882).

Hayez did here a very traditional painting. In the back is Sodom burning and the statue of the mother could be seen. He focuses on Lot and his daughters who are all more or less naked. Lot looks very drunk, in front is a (wine-) jug and one of the daughters holds an empty cup. While Lot as the central figure seems nearly helpless, the two daughters are cool watching the effects of their intrigue.

Salome (1906) by the Austrian painter Salome and print makers Oskar Kokoschka (1886-1980).

Kokoschka started his studies at the Vienna School where he became a close friend of Gustav Klimt. But soon he lost his initial enthusiasm for Art Nouveau, he left Vienna and the and became one of the most important painters of the Expressionist era. But this Salome belongs still to his early Art Nouveau phase. It’s nearly pure ornament and symbol. 

Frederick Goodall (1822-1904) was like Alma-Tadema an English Victorian painter. He was specialized in orientalist paintings but did also biblical and historical subjects. His Susanna here seems to me as a cheap excuse to paint and sell a nude in Victorian England.

Susanna (1886)

The Finding of Moses by Pharaoh's Daughter (1904).

This idyllic and cheerful painting is by the Dutch-born victorian painter Lawrence Alma-Tadema English Classicist Painter (1836-1912). He specialized was a specialist in history paintings where he idealized Greek and Roman life. As it was expected from a history painter in this time the painting is rich in historical details, exotic costumes and flowers. It’s very similar to Alma-Tadema usual classical subjects. He hasn’t any real religious purpose at all, the bible only provides him with another historical subject. 

The Festival of Esther (1865) by the English Victorian era painter Edward Armitage (1817-1896).

Armitage focused on historical, classical and biblical subjects. That explains the good historical decoration of the painting. It’s that kind of "realism" which dominated painting till the end of the century.

Judith and Holofernes (1831) by the French painter Emile Jean Horace Vernet (1789-1863).

This today nearly unknown painting was a great event in its own time. The German poet Heinrich Heine wrote deeply impressed: "above her hips she wears an undergarment of pale yellow whose sleeve falls off her right shoulder and which she pushes up over her left hand in the manner of a butcher…
In her eyes above sparkles a sweet cruelty and the desire for vengeance; for she has her own violated body to avenge on the odious pagan...
Death sends him by the hand of a most beautiful angel into the white night of eternal oblivion. What an enviable end! If I should die one day, ye Gods, let me die like Holofernes!"

Men’s dreams! 

Once more the hard working Ruth is discovered by Boaz, her future husband.

Engraving by Paul Gustave Doré (1832–1883) from the illustrated Bible (1866).

Bathsheba by the Italian painter Giovan Battista Naldini (1537-1591).

In some way it’s a perfect cool painting, much more drawing than painting. There are Bathsheba and her handmaidens all dressed in Roman fashion. The architecture is Roman as well, or at least what artists in the 17th century thought of Roman architecture. In the background there is King David on the balcony.

As I said: the arrangement is perfect like the painting. 

Jephtah was a judge of the Israelites. In this function he led an army against the Ammonistes. To win the decisive battle he made a vow to sacrifice whatever comes out of the doors of his house when he returned in peace from the people of Ammon.

But when the victorious Jephthah came home the first what he met was his daughter, his only child. Jephthah teared his clothes and cried in grief, but finally he fulfilled his oath and sacrificed his daughter, who had only asked for two months' grace, "that I may go down on the mountains ... and bewail my virginity".

The story of Jephtah caused a lot of religious discussions. Some argued, that human sacrifice is forbidden in the Bible and because of that Jephthah's Daughter was spared at the end. The other side is represented by Martin Luther who wrote: "Some affirm that he did not sacrifice her, but the text is clear enough!"

Fortunately that’s not our problem. We will have only a look at the artistic interpretation. There it may be interesting if Jephthah's Daughter is sacrificed or not, if an artist depicts more the poor child or the grief of the father. For example in one of the most famous adaptations in Händel’s oratoria "Jephtha" the sacrifice is stopped by an angel.

Illustration from 1807 from “Antiquities of the Jews” by Flavius Josephus

Here the sleeping Samson is arrested by a group of well armed soldiers. In the background Delilah is withdrawing, triumphantly she holds Samson’s hair in one and the scissors in the other hand.

Samson (1636) by Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn (1606-1669). It’s typical baroque, totally concentrated on the dramatic movements and the newly discovered light effects. 

The incest of the daughters with her father was only one aspect which could interest painters in the story of Lot. The other was the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, the wrath of God. In Renaissance and Baroque paintings dominates clearly the incest aspect. But with the rising importance of dramatic landscapes from the late 18th century onwards artists focused more on destruction.

The Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (1852) by the English Romantic painter and illustrator John Martin (1789–1854).

Martin was a specialist in apocalyptic sceneries. He painted the destruction of Herculaneum, the Eve of the Deluge, the Fall of Nineveh, the Fall of Babylon and others. Normally the expositions of his huge paintings were great events, a kind of early movie theatre. The art critic Ruskin spoke of „vulgar sensationalism“. Nevertheless Martin gained even more money with popular prints of his paintings.

Salome (1906) by the American painter Robert Henri (1865–1929).

Henri studied in France under William-Adolphe Bouguereau and changed later to Impressionism – I’m sure that Bouguereau never forgave him that. Back in the USA he became a leading member of the Ashcan School movement.

Henri was a modern realist painter and so he depicts a contemporary nightclub dancer posing as Salome. At the beginning of the 20th century history is no longer portrayable it’s only raw material for dramatic effects. 

Once more Susanna and the Elders. Here by the French painter Jacques Stella (1596-1657).

Actually it’s the typical nude Susanna painting, with the two old horny guys and the chaste woman, who is exposed to the art viewer. Much more interesting is therefore the classical architecture which was something new in Stella’s time. During a longer stay in Rome Stella became a close friend to Nicolas Poussin by whom he was strongly influenced, so that after his death his paintings were often sold as works by Poussin.

Hagar and Ishmael (1830) by the English landscape painter Charles Lock Eastlake (1793-1865).

Mother and son lost in the wilderness, near to death. It’s a traditional composition but not a great painting. Without the empty jug nobody would know where the problem is, because Hagar looks more bored than thirsty. 

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