If you hadn’t heard… It has been snowing in the UK with the joys of the ‘beast from the east’ making an appearance over our tiny island, and with storm Emma due to hit soon, it is feeling a little like the new ice age combined with some of the descriptions of hell which I have written about previously.
As you are more than well aware by now if you read my articles regularly, hell, punishment and sin are always great topics for art work, especially of the religious nature as painters can let their imaginations run riot with the stories. Jan Steen is no different.
Steen was a Dutch artist in the 17th century and he was widely known for his use of colour as well as the humour and psychological insight that his paintings gave.
A lot of his work concentrated on daily life and you can see chaotic scenes with lustful or drunkenly behaviour. He did however complete a series of paintings which centred around the gods and religious stories. His colour pallet and humour lent itself to an insightful tongue in cheek glance at what the stories portrayed.
Lot, the man who looks to be enjoying himself in this picture, lived in Sodom. Sodom (aligned with the city Gomorrah and part of the five cities of the plains) was an excessively sinful place (in fact it is where the word sodomy comes from). Sexual activity, drinking, stealing, in fact anything you could think of was going on in Sodom, and all visible to the eyes of God.
Lot and his family, were not sinners, they lived a relatively sin free life within the walls of this treacherous metropolis, and God saw this, through a test. He has sent angels dressed as men to visit Sodom, and Lot had convinced them to take shelter with him. The hospitality that they received while in Lot’s company was well thought of and they were particularly impressed when Lot refused to hand the strangers over to the people of Sodom when they came calling for them (who know what they wanted to do with them, but I am sure that it wasn’t pleasant). Lot instead offered his two virgin daughters, but these were refused. The people of Sodom got a bit rowdy at this point, and the strangers revealed themselves as angels and told Lot of there mission to destroy the city. As the people of Sodom broke down Lot’s door, the angels blinded them, and told Lot to take his family and leave the city as they did not deserve to be punished.
As they started to make their escape one of the angel gave them a warning of not to look behind them as they leave the city.
Lot and his daughters listened to the angel, but his wife, turned to see the city being destroyed with fire and brimstone by God, and instantly turned into a pillar of salt.
Lot and his daughters continued to walk, and eventually camped in a cave for the night. His daughters had been talking during their escape, and had found their concerns with all the men in the cities being killed, how would they ever have children. They hatched a plan to get their father drunk, so that they could have their way with him in the hopes of getting pregnant…maybe not all of Lot’s family were sinfree after all…
Steen captures the moment of frivolity and drunkenness within the cave. In the background you can see the city of Sodom on fire, as the two girls ply their father with drinks. One is undressing him as the other holds aloft a drink. You can see Lot’s hat on the floor, one shoe is off, and his robe open. Lot does appear to be enjoying himself, considering they have just been made homeless and his wife turned in to a pillar of salt.
I really like how Steen captures this scene, it is not so grotesque as to show the actual act of incest and rape (essentially, as the plan by the daughters was to get him so drunk that he didn’t know and wouldn’t remember), but it alludes to the act and how Lot is seemingly unaware of their intentions. The daughters intentions however are made clear with their clothes slipping, and breasts exposed.
The colours which Steen has used, reflect the status of the father, in red, and then the ages of the daughters, the older one in the darker dress. Both with underdresses of white, indicating their virginal state. I particularly like the burning glow from Sodom to the left of the picture.
Obviously there are serious flaws in the story, such as the daughters in the story appear to know that they are instantly pregnant after the act. They also don’t seem to think that there will be men where they are going to (perhaps they thought they needed to repopulate the earth…). There is also the other glaringly obvious flaw…If Lot was that drunk, could he really “perform”, so to speak? For me, I think that Steen captures some of these issues in his painting. The daughters, so focused on their father that they are blinkered to what is happening around them. Lot’s drunkenness means that he is concentrating on the daughter with the drink (although who knows where his other hand is) and not on the daughter who is disrobing him. I think that the way this painting has been set up is really very clever.
What do you think of Lot and his daughters? Why not tell me in the comments? Like this post? Why not share it?