My Daily Art Display today starts with a passage from the Bible. It is from the book of Genesis (19: 30-38) and tells the story of Lot and his two daughters who we see in the painting above, entitled Lot and his Daughters which was painted by the great German Renaissance painter, Lucas Cranach the Elder around 1530. The Bible passage sets the scene:
30 Lot and his two daughters left Zoar and settled in the mountains, for he was afraid to stay in Zoar. He and his two daughters lived in a cave. 31 One day the older daughter said to the younger, “Our father is old, and there is no man around here to give us children—as is the custom all over the earth. 32 Let’s get our father to drink wine and then sleep with him and preserve our family line through our father.”
33 That night they got their father to drink wine, and the older daughter went in and slept with him. He was not aware of it when she lay down or when she got up.
34 The next day the older daughter said to the younger, “Last night I slept with my father. Let’s get him to drink wine again tonight, and you go in and sleep with him so we can preserve our family line through our father.” 35 So they got their father to drink wine that night also, and the younger daughter went in and slept with him. Again he was not aware of it when she lay down or when she got up.
36 So both of Lot’s daughters became pregnant by their father. 37 The older daughter had a son, and she named him Moab; he is the father of the Moabites of today. 38 The younger daughter also had a son, and she named him Ben-Ammi ; he is the father of the Ammonites of today.
Not being a reader of the Bible, nor being particularly religious, I was surprised to read the passage from Genesis, as on first seeing the painting, which is housed at Compton Verney in Warwickshire, I believed it to be simply a picture of two girls, one comforting a tired-looking old man whilst the other was bringing him something to drink.
It is known that Lucas Cranach the Elder painted this Old Testament subject on at least four occasions and many other artists have depicted this same story in their paintings. The early part of Chapter 19 of Genesis relates the story of how God destroyed the two cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, which are shown in flames in the background of the painting. To save the righteous people of the two cities, God sent down two angels to lead Lot, his wife Edith, his nephew Abraham and his family away from the doomed cities. The two angels warned Lot that they should quickly escape but nobody should look back on the burning cities but as we know Lot’s wife did and was turned into a pillar of salt and we see the grey pillar of salt in the right middle-ground of the painting.
In the foreground we have Lot on one knee his arms resting on the knees of one of his daughters, who rests her hand on his head, trying to console him after the loss of his wife. As the biblical tale tells us the daughters, Pheiné and Thamma, fearing that with the destruction of all the people of the city they will not have the chance to bear children and their father will thus never have a male heir. With that in mind they decide that their father should make them pregnant and so on two consecutive nights they got Lot drunk and had him make love to them. The daughters became pregnant and each had a son, Moab and Benammi.
This is really a story of two females taking decisions about their own destiny rather than leaving it to a male to decide what should happen to them and their lives. Stories of female domination over men were very popular in the late Middle Ages and could not only be seen in paintings, but could be read about in literature, and words of songs and plays of the time.
I am a great fan of both Cranach the Elder and his son Lucas Cranach the Younger and find their paintings