Thursday, December 31, 2009


Samson and Delilah by the British neoclassical painter Joseph Solomon (1860–1927).

It’s a very well done painting showing a lot of dramatic action in an exotic scenery. Delilah is mocking Samson who is overcome by a great number of enemies. There are strong influences of history and of oriental paintings which were very fashionable in this time.

Here three more examples of Judith by the German Renaissance painter Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472-1533).

He was court painter to the Electors of Saxony the leaders of the Protestant Reformation and it seems that many of the noble ladies in Saxony liked it to be depicted as Judith the savior of her people. Cranach did maybe more than a dozen which can be found now in museums over half of the world. 

Jan Steen (c.1626–1679) was a Dutch genre painter of the Dutch Golden Age. He depicts here how Bathsheba receives the letter from King David. Despite it’s one of the relatively few paintings not showing the typical bathing scene with King David peeping it shows Bathsheba doing her toilet – probably she had not much more to do.

More interesting is therefore to compare the painting with another one depicting a normal Dutch doing her toilet.

The similarities are obvious, only that the biblical Bathsheba has more luxury, some handmaidens and shows more nudeness.

Ruth Declares her Loyalty to Naomi (1614) by the Dutch painter Pieter Lastman (c.1583-1633).

Lastman was a well known history painter working in Amsterdam where Rembrandt was one of his students. Ruth and Naomi are painted here as contemporary women. The only hint that the story happened in another place is the Italian landscape, which Lastman knew by his studies there. 

Lot Fleeing with His Daughters from Sodom by the German painter Johann Georg Trautmann (1713–1769).

Trautmann was fascinated by the dramatic effects of light, especially red light. So he painted gypsies and robbers by their campfires, burning cities and historical or legendary disasters like the burning Troy. Here he dedicated all his skills to the destruction of Sodom. Lot is fleeing with his daughters and the statue of the mother is left behind. But they are more an excuse to paint the burning Sodom.

Susanna at Her Bath (1526) by the German Renaissance Painter Albrecht Altdorfer (c.1480–1538).

Just as most of his contemporaries Altdorfer painted normally religious scenes, but probably he was much more interested in landscapes which in many cases dominated his compositions.

This painting is similar, there is an impressive castle and big trees and a turbulent sky. The figures seemed to be toys. In the foreground there is Susanna washing her feet. And on the left hidden in the bushes are the two elders peeping. So the whole story is present, but the real interesting things are without any doubt the castle and the sky. 

Herodias (1886) by the Russian painter Iwan Nikolajewitsch Kramskoj (1837-1887).

Kramskoj depicts here Herodias the mother of Salome who was the mastermind behind the intrigue against John the Baptist. But in legend and in art she is frequently mixed up with Salome.
Anyway, the woman here is looking triumphantly at the head of her adversary. It seems that she’s talking to him.

The finding of Moses (1886) by the English painter Edwin Longsden Long (1829-1891).

Long was primarily an Orientalist painter. He had travelled to Spain, Egypt and Syria to provide himself with inspirations for his lucrative paintings. The biblical subject is here a minor matter, it’s more a pretext to show some exotic nudes in a likewise exotic scenery. 

Esther before Ahasuerus (1738-40) by the Italian painter Pompeo Girolamo Batoni (1708-1787).

It’s a typical classicist painting. The scenery is well known – Esther is losing consciousness before the great King. The architecture and the dresses are taken from the time of the painting.

Judith and Holofernes (1901) by the Austrian Symbolist and Art Nouveau painter Gustav Klimt (1862-1918).

Judith is lasciviously caressing the head of Holofernes. There is nothing historical in this painting - Judith is a modern woman, her hairstyle is that of the fin-de-siècle.
But real interesting is, that Klimt is mixing Judith and Salome. This woman showing the head as her trophy could be Salome as well. Both together become the symbol of the modern femme fatale. 

Samson and Delilah (1878) by the French Academic Painter Alexandre Cabanel (1823-1889).

Cabanel was the preferred painter of Napoleon III and one of the leading representatives of the so called “L'art pompier”. He and William-Adolphe Bouguereau formed the strongest resistance against any modern art movement in the final decades of the 19th century.
His Delilah may serve as a good example for that pseudo-realistic art which is technically perfectly done and formed the culmination of academic art.

Jephthah (1867) by the English Pre-Raphaelite Painter John Everett Millais (1829–1896).

Millais focuses on the despair of the father. His daughter is seating on his lap. Gazing into the void she is trying to comfort her father. The whole picture is a mournfully scenery of desperation.

Nevertheless it’s interesting to observe the work which Millais invested in the exotic and historical details: the weapons, the furs, the music instruments and the dresses. So it’s a religious subject presented as a history painting. 

Hagar in the Wilderness (1835) by the French painter Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot (1796-1875).

Corot was a Realist painter and a leading member of the Barbizon school in mid-nineteenth century France. Therefore he focused normally on landscape painting. The landscape is also dominating this painting, Hagar and her son Ishmael are only little figures in the vast desert. In a central position the rescuing angel is arriving. With all that naturalism Hagar’s theatrical pose annoys a little.

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