Thursday, May 28, 2009

Salome Dance of the 7 Veils

When in the 20th century realistic painting vanished it was replaced by Hollywood, which carried on not only with the subjects but likewise with the manner to work with images.

As an example here a clip from the movie Salome (1953) with Rita Hayworth as Princess Salome and Charles Laughton as King Herod.

It's easy to see that this movie owes a lot to history painting of the 19th century.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Esther at the crossroads

This Esther is by the English painter Sir John Everett Millais (1829–1896) one of the founders of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.

Esther is standing at the crossroads. To enter her husband’s hall without being called meant death, regardless the rank of the person. But Esther had decided to intervene and to risk her live to help her people.
Millais a great specialist in showy clothes painted a queen with all her splendor, probably to show what she had to loose.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Sex Sells

Sometimes I’m asked what nudes got to do with religion. If we talk about Christian religion, not much I think. But here I want to talk about art and for art nudes are very important. The problem was (and is) the hypocrisy of society. Painting nudes could be a good business, but simple nudes were not considered as art but a scandal.

In the good old times an artist who wanted to paint nudes to make a living had only three possibilities: classical goddesses (Venus, Aphrodite etc.), oriental women (Odalisques) or biblical subjects.

So the normal biblical nude pretended only to be a religious painting. Actually it was a lame excuse to sell nudes. That this was a common practice is shown by the caricature by Honoré Daumier from 1864. Visiting the yearly exhibitions of the Paris Salon with all that nudes sold as classical goddesses two women are lamenting scandalized: "This Year Venuses Again… Always Venuses!"

Another example is the French painter Édouard Manet (1832–1883), who is often considered as one of the most important fathers of modern painting. Manet was planning a painting about the finding of Moses and made therefore studies of Pharaoh's Daughter inspired by the painting "Susanna bathing" by Rembrandt.

Rembrandt: Susanna bathing (ca.1636)

The first result was another Susanna know by Manet.

In 1861 during a visit in Russia he wanted to sell this painting, but thought that the very religious Russians would prefer to buy a classical nude. So he added a satyr and called it "nymph surprised" (instead of Susanna surprised). When he couldn’t sell it, he covered the satyr, and so it can be seen today in Buenos Aires.

Probably tired of that hypocrisy of the art market he painted in 1862 the most famous of his works: Le déjeuner sur l'herbe (The Luncheon on the Grass). Sure that it was influenced by paintings by Raphael and Titian, but I think that there are still two men with the nude women, which reminds me of Susanna and the elders.

Anyway it caused a great scandal, art critics called it "immoral" and "vulgar" because there were normal nudes to be seen (not half as voyeuristic as many of the neoclassical goddesses). But this was the point, that there was no Bathsheba, no Susanna, no Venus or Diana, just normal, human nudes. The jury refused to expose the painting in the Paris Salon, which was the cause of the formation of the impressionist movement.

So in short: I don’t want to write about religion, but about the tricks in art. And because religion provided art with a lot of subjects, tricks and excuses I write about that interpretations.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Hagar by Rubens

Here Hagar is driven away by Abraham and his wife Sarah. Interesting is that there the boy Ishmael is missing. Instead of this Hagar is pregnant. So it seems that the famous Flemish Baroque painter Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) gives a very subjective interpretation of the old story. A pregnant servant is chased away by her master and his wife. The difference could be seen in the elegant silk clothes of Sarah compared to the common clothes of Hagar. The aggressive dog is a nice detail as well.

It’s a scene which was easy to understand for the people in the time of Rubens. So he didn’t make any effort to give the painting a historical or oriental look. This happened every day.

Hagar Leaves the House of Abraham (1615)

Thursday, May 14, 2009


That the Women of the Bible are a common subject in art history is demonstrated by a number of books, of which I want to present some here. Maybe somebody is interested and wanted to know more.

Great women of the Bible in art and literature

Dorothee Sölle, Joe H. Kirchberger, Anne-Marie Schnieper, Herbert Haag

The book provides a lot of information about 15 biblical characters like Lilith, Judith, Esther, Ruth, Sarah and more. It shows the influence of
this stories on literature and art. With more than 200 images it's richly illustrated.

Fortress Press, 2006
ISBN 0800635574, 9780800635572
160 pages

Women of the Bible: With Paintings from the Great Art Museums of the World

Carole Armstrong

This book is more focused on art. So you find the most important paintings related to women of the Bible.

There are some really cheap offers from Amazon.

Simon & Schuster, 1998
ISBN-10 0689817282, 978-0689817281
45 pages

Sunday, May 10, 2009


This Judith is from the 1870s and by the French painter Jean Joseph Benjamin Constant (1845-1902), who was specialized in historical and oriental subjects.

Constant shows Judith in all her luxury clothes as a strong, powerful, decisive, resolute women. It’s not that girlish type which some artist chose. The well arranged banners behind her recall the wings of an angel. So Judith appears as an revenging archangel.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Neoclassical Susanna

Susanna Caught by the Elders (1831) by the Russian painter Grigory Ignatyevich Lapchenko (1801-1876).

This is a typical Neoclassical painting. The artist shows his skills: the perfect nude body, the illumination (there must be a spotlight on the upper left) and the crystal clear water. The two Elders in the background are only there to give the painting a title. Otherwise it could be any nude.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Dutch Hagar

This painting showing Hagar and her son Ishmael chased away by Abraham is probably from the 1630s and by the Dutch Mannerist Painter Abraham Bloemaert (ca.1564-1651).

Typically for that time is the dutch landscape and the costumes. Bloemaert painted a rich farmer who expeled a servant with his unwished bastard. Only the turban is a reminiscence that the story has happened somewhere in the Orient.