Sunday, December 20, 2009

Exotic Scenery

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.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Posing as Judith

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.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Dutch Bathsheba

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.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Ruth and Naomi in Italy

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.

Monday, November 30, 2009

The End of Sodom

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.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Renaissance Architecture

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.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Triumphant Herodias

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.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Oriental Nudes

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.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Esther before the King

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.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Judith as Femme Fatale

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.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Academic Delilah

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.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Pre-Raphaelite Jephthah

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.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Modern Bathsheba

Bathsheba (1875-77) by the French painter Paul Cézanne (1839-1906).

Cézanne is considered as a Post-Impressionist painter and a kind of bridge between Impressionism and modern art like Cubism. So it’s interesting how he treated here the old traditional subject, which so many artists had depicted before.

There is the nude Bathsheba exposing her body to the sun or to King David, who cannot be seen. But there is the maidservant, probably as a kind of label that this is Bathsheba. Different to nearly all of his colleagues Cézanne refrains from the cheap exploitation of the nude body. He reduces Bathsheba to colour and finally to an icon.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Divine Salvation

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.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Seduced Lot

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.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Art Nouveau Salome

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.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Victorian Nude

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)

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Merry old Egypt

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 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.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Festival of Esther

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.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Bloody Work

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!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Boaz and Ruth

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).

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Mannerist Bathsheba

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.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Jephthah's Daughter

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

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Arrest of Samson

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.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah

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.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Salome as a Nightclub Dancer

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.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Susanna and the Elders

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.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Hagar and Ishmael

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.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Banquet of Esther

The Banquet of Esther (1640s) by the Dutch baroque painter Jan Victors (1620-?), who was probably a student of Rembrandt van Rijn.

Here Esther reveals to the king that she herself is a Jew and that Haman has plotted to kill them all. She will loose her live if she couldn’t convince the king.
All are wearing typical Dutch costumes of the 17th century. Only the turban, which is from the same period, reminds that the scenery happened somewhere in the Orient. There is still nothing "historical" in the painting.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Pharaoh's daughter as Patron

Everybody knows the story of Moses. That he was set adrift on the Nile River in a basket because his mother wanted to save his live. That he was Pharaoh's daughter, who adopted him as her own son, so that he grew up as a younger brother to the future Rameses II. As a political and religious leader, lawgiver, and prophet Moses is probably the most important figure in the Bible. Nevertheless I’m more interested in Pharaoh's daughter.

In Jewish texts she is called Thermuthis and it is said that she later fled with the Jews during the Exodus and became Jewish by marriage. Despite she is not very important in the Bible - she is not even named there – she was very attractive to painters. In the interpretation of art she was a very important noble woman, something like a queen, who adopted a poor orphan and arranged his future. So she was the ideal symbol for any kind of patronage or sponsorship.

Paintings of Pharaoh's daughter were popular among mighty women, to show their generosity, their love, their maternally gifts. Among artists they were popular to appeal for sponsorship. Pharaoh's daughter has to be seen therefore as a patron of the arts.

Finding of Moses (1638-40)

Moses saved (1651)

These two examples are by the French painter Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665), who is considered as the founder of the French Classical tradition at the end of the Baroque era. Interesting is the classical architecture in the background. A pyramid and an obelisk are symbolizing Egypt, but the costumes are like a classical artist would have imagined Greeks or Romans.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Medieval Bathsheba

This still medieval Bathsheba dates from about 1485 and is by the Dutch Renaissance painter Hans Memling (c.1435-1494).

Despite its age there are already all important persons present. The nude seductive Bathsheba, a maidservant and king David peeping on his balcony.
Interesting may be that Memling doesn’t make any effort to give the painting a historical or oriental touch. The clothes and the furniture are pure 15th century Dutch.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Lot as a Victim

Lot and his daughters by the German Renaissance painter Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472–1553). It’s probably from about 1528, but that’s not sure because Cranach painted at least four like this.

It’s a kind of psychedelic or symbolist painting. I like that bloody rainbow above Sodom.
But what’s really interesting. That it is one of the rare examples where Lot appears as the victim. It seems that Cranach hadn’t any doubt that the poor old man was totally manipulated by his two cool looking daughters.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Triumphant Salome

Salomé by the French Academic painter Pierre Bonnaud (1865-1930).

Salomé is posing here as a triumphant victor. She is totally aware of her sexual power. And maybe feels a kind of pity with her poor victim. The tiger skin on the floor is only another symbol for his dangerous feline predator.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Modern Delilah

Here a relatively modern interpretation of Samson and Delilah. It’s by the German painter Max Liebermann (1847-1935). The painting is not pretending to be realistic. There are no historical costumes or exotic accessories. There is only a modern looking woman who is triumphantly waving with the hair of Samson. It is a kind of scalp, her trophy.

Samson and Delilah (1902)

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Wherever you go, I will go…

Ruth and Naomi (1886) by the English Painter Philip Hermogenes Calderon (1833-1898).

Naomi wanted to go back to Bethlehem and Orpah is also on her way. Ruth instead is begging to stay with Naomi. The two women seemed like lovers, when Ruth is saying: "For wherever you go, I will go; And wherever you lodge, I will lodge…”

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Theatrical Esther

Esther before the king from the Bible illustrated by Paul Gustave Doré (1832–1883).

For Doré it was important be historical as exact as possible. So he drew a kind of exotic palace and costumes which could pass as Persian. But if you look at how theatrically Esther is losing her consciousness, it could only be on a stage. So it’s theatre in a good setting what Doré is showing.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Bathsheba and Servants

Bathsheba (1594) by the Dutch painter Cornelis Corneliszoon van Haarlem (1562-1638).

Corneliszoon van Haarlem was one of the leading Northern Mannerist artists, and with this painting he is showing what he’s able to. There’s not only one nude Bathsheba, there is nearly an entire harem to be seen. The bodies are perfect and the artist confronts the paleness of two with the dark exotic skin of Bathsheba’s black maiden.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Chaste Susanna

This Susanna from about 1865 is by the French academic painter Jean Jacques Henner (1829-1905).

It’s one more of these typical neoclassic Susanna paintings, which concentrates on the nude female body. Even the elders are nearly hidden in the darkness of the background.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Proud Judith

This Judith by the French painter Joseph Benjamin Constant (1845-1902) resembles a lot the other one. It’s also a proud woman who doesn’t need much symbols or action like cutting heads. The sword is enough.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Lot and his Daughters

Lot and his Daughters by the Italian Renaissance Painter Bonifacio Veronese (c.1487-1553).

I can’t help, but I got the strong impression that Lot doesn’t look so drunk, instead he seems very interested in his daughter while the second is waiting patiently. In the back there’s burning Sodom. So they don’t lose any time. I think Veronese gives a really cynical interpretation of the old story.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Samson and Delilah

Samson was one of the great Heroes of the Israelites in their fights with the Philistines. God had granted him a superhuman strength to combat his enemies and perform heroic feats unachievable by normal humans. So he overcame a lion with his bare hands or an entire army with only a jawbone of a donkey.

His end came when he fell in love with Delilah a Philistine woman. Living with Samson Delilah was asked by her people to find out the secret of Samson’s strength. Insisting for a long time she found out finally that the source of Samson’s supernatural power lies in his long hair. When she had found out Delilah cut Samson’s hair and called her people. The Philistines captured Samson and blinded him. As a prisoner he had to work in a mill grinding grain, which was the typical work for slaves.

Later when the Philistines wanted to celebrate their triumph they took Samson to their temple. But in the meantime Samson’s hair had grown long again and he had recovered his old strength. Tied to the temple's central pillars Samson was able to break them and led the whole temple come down. There he died with many of his enemies. What happened to Delilah is not mentioned.

The story of Samson and Delilah is therefore primarily that of a valiant warrior who became a victim of his passion and his treacherous wife. But what did Delilah really? She betrayed Samson, but she risked a lot for her people the Philistines. In the end I cannot see a big difference between her and Judith. That one is a traitor and the other a hero depends only on the perspective of Israelites.

But it’s not my turn to judge Delilah. I will show the interpretations of the artists. And there dominated the naïve hero who is betrayed because he trusted his wife.

On this “Samson and Delilah” painting from about 1610 by the Flemish Baroque painter Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) yet the most important characteristics can be seen. The nude breasts of Delilah symbolize not only sexual attraction but also a false motherly security. There is the strong Hercules-like figure of Samson, who is falling victim of his trustfulness. In the background is a statue of Venus and Cupid, indicating the cause of Samson's fate.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Ruth by Tissot

James Tissot (1836-1902) was a French painter who had immigrated to England after the suppression of the Paris Commune. In London he had great success with his (in my opinion brilliant) paintings of fashionable women. But after the suicide of his beloved mistress (she had tuberculosis) he returned to France underwent a religious conversion and became a devoted catholic. He visited the Holy Land in 1886-87 and published a series of illustrations to the events of the Bible, which became enormously popular.

Here is Ruth gleaning. An impressionist influence can be noticed. The artist is primarily interested in the oriental landscape, the light and the workers. Probably Tissot watched similar scenes.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Burlesque Salome

Here is a nice example to where the symbol of Salome was drifting to. At least since the end of the 19th century Salome was converted in a kind of femme fatale with increasing characteristics of a nightclub dancer. Here she appears as a dancer of a burlesque show and the once so terrible head is now a pure theatre accessory.

The painting is from 1916 and by the Austrian/American artist Raphael Kirchner (1876-1917) who became with the "Kirchner Girls" a father of the later Pin-up art.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Romantic Susanna

Susanna and the elders by the French painter Théodore Chassériau (1819-1856).

Chassériau started as a pupil in the the atelier of Ingres and received there a classical academic education. But later he fell under the influence of Delacroix the romantic opponent of Ingres. This Susanna with its exaggerated gestures, the impressive colors and the concentration on a few important details is pure romanticism.

Monday, June 29, 2009

A Perfect Nude

David und Bathsheba (1562) by the Flemish manierist painter Jan Massys (c. 1509-1575).

Massys was best known for the sensuality of his nude paintings. Here Bathsheba and David are shown in a typical European courtly scene – besides from Bathsheba’s nudeness. The really interesting thing about the painting is that David appears two times: in the back on the balcony and in front with Bathsheba. That’s still very medieval, to unite on one image different stages of a story.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Late Medieval Judith

Judith (c. 1530-33) by the Italian/Flemish Renaissance painter Ambrosius Benson (c.1490-1550).

This painting resembles still a medieval altarpiece. There is no movement, no “action” like in the later Baroque paintings. Judith is still an icon like an altarpiece. All in it is symbol: her nudeness because she seduced Holofernes, the revenging sword, her luxury clothes and the head of the enemy.