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.