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.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Lot and his Daughters

Everybody knows Sodom and Gomorrah, the two cities which had been destroyed for the sins of their inhabitants by the wrath of God. Their names are proverbial, synonymous for vice and sexual deviation and perversion. And most people know that from all that destruction there was saved only Lot with his family, because he was the only good man in the two cities. Warned by the angels Lot escaped with his daughters; only his wife was turned into a pillar of salt, because she was looking back against the orders of the angels.

So far, so good, but from here on the story is far lesser known. Lot and his daughters took shelter in a cave. The daughters were convinced that they were the only survivors in the world and because of that it should be their responsibility to bear children and enable the continuation of the human race. On the next nights they inebriate their father and had sexual intercourse with him. They became pregnant as they wished and had later two sons. That was enough because mankind wasn’t extinguished as they had supposed.

It’s a really strange story. There are the people of Sodom and Gomorrah wiped out because of the sexual excesses, and some hours later good old Lot had sex with his own daughters. Sure, it’s well explained and he was so drunk, that he didn’t even notice what he was doing. And if there is someone guilty, that’s the women, who nearly raped the poor father. All that is more than ambiguous, it sounds like a petty excuse for the deeds of Lot. In modern studies Lot is cited as the model of the father, who had sex with his daughter(s).

The topic is controversial. But it’s not my intention to discuss what Lot did or not. For me he is first and foremost a subject in art; and he and his daughters have interested artists for centuries. And in these paintings can be seen the different interpretations. In some Lot is a poor victim, but in many he appears like an old horny seducer.

Lot and his daughters by the Italian Baroque painter Giovanni Battista Lama (1673-1748)

Here the daughters made their father drunk. In the background is burning Sodom and on the way could be seen the salt statue of the mother.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Landscape with Hagar

The Expulsion of Hagar and Ishmael (1668) by the French Baroque painter Claude Lorrain (1600-1682).

Lorrain worked in Italy and was famous for his landscape painting, which he normally decorated with some classical buildings and pastoral figures in classical dress. He was primarily interested in an ideal landscape and its illumination, second came the classical architecture. So here Hagar and Ishmael appear more as a decoration of the landscape.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Exotic Dancer

Salomé (1914) by the French painter Gaston Bussière (1862-1929).

Bussière was specialized in erotic women, sometimes mythological or oriental but mostly as exotic dancers. Because of that his Salomé here looks like a dancer in a Parisian nightclub.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Modern Ruth in old clothes

Ruth in the Fields. That’s the cover of a magazine of 1947.

It’s obvious how the technique of 19th century history painting now have spread to a more popular level. Now it’s important to show the persons in oriental and historical costumes. Nevertheless Ruth with her makeup resembles an American woman of 1947.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Bathsheba and David

Bathsheba was the beautiful wife of Uriah a Hittite mercenary in the service of King David. While her husband was in the field fighting the Ammonites, Bathsheba was watched by David from the rooftop of his palace how she was taking her ritual bath. Impressed by her beauty the king immediately ordered her to come to his palace.

When Bathsheba later became pregnant David summoned Uriah from the army in the hope that he would sleep with his wife and think the child was his own. But because there was an ancient rule that officers shouldn’t sleep with their women while the troops remained in the field, Uriah stayed with the palace troops.

Unable to resolve the problem this way David sent Uriah back to the army with a secret letter for his commanding general. In this letter David ordered that Uriah should be abandoned in the battle, so that he would be killed by the enemy. And so it happened.

Later the child of Bathsheba and David died because it was the result of a sin (always the wrong have to pay). But anyhow Bathsheba became queen and hat another child of David, the later mighty King Salomon.

It’s clear that David is a sinner. He betrayed a true soldier and sent him into death only to satisfy his lust. Not so easy to judge is the role of Bathsheba. Sure she had to obey the king. But there is to suspect that she wanted to be watched by David while she was bathing, that finally she seduced him and not vice versa. And if we are viewing the paintings about that story it’s easy to see that many artists had the same opinion.

This is a late medieval book illumination by the French painter Jean Bourdichon (1457-1521). It already shows the characteristics of the typical Bathsheba paintings: a naked woman bathing and King David (with the crown) on his balcony.

Anytime when you will see in a museum a naked bather and somebody on a rooftop or a balcony watching it’s probably Bathsheba.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Judith and Maidservant

Judith and her Maidservant (ca. 1625) by the Italian Baroque painter Artemisia Gentileschi (1593–ca.1653).

The head of Holofernes is already stuffed in the sack and the two women are preparing to flee back to safety in Bethulia. The hushed candlelit atmosphere emphasizes the imminent danger of the situation. But as well it’s easy to see that the artist was fascinated by that new technique to paint light and shadow.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Susanna and the Elders

Susanna caught by the Elders by Surprise in a Bath (1822) by the Russian neoclassical painter Piotr Vasilyevich Basin (1793-1877).

It’s that typical neoclassic construction, a perfect female body, Greek architecture and a spotlight on the interesting parts. The turban is the only concession to a historical or oriental scenery.