Caravaggio and the Painters of the North
From 21 June to 18 September 2016
This incestuous biblical episode is to be found in Genesis. It narrates how Lot and his daughters left the city of Zoar, where they had lived after their departure from Sodom, and moved to a cave in the mountains. There, the two daughters decided by common agreement and on the suggestion of the elder one to make their father drunk and then sleep with him in order to ensure the continuation of his line, given that there were no other men left on earth. For two consecutive nights they made Lot drunk, the elder daughter sleeping with him on the first night and the younger on the second night. The elder daughter gave birth to Moab and the younger to Benammi. This story of double incest was depicted by artists during the 16th and 17th centuries in scenes that frequently contained sensual implications or suggestions of eroticism and seduction. Here, Gentileschi has made use of insinuation and suggestion rather than an overt depiction of the events that took place. The painter organised the subject around the three principal figures who are located in an exterior whose rocky backdrop is presumably the cave to which they escaped. The figures on the ground create a well-organised, compact group in which the drunken Lot sleeps between his two daughters who are looking out of the pictorial space towards the events taking place in the distance, towards which the daughter who seems to be the elder one is pointing.
Gentileschi used a limited range of colours but created elegant combinations through the use of large, juxtaposed areas of colour for the clothes in shades of red, yellow, blue and white against a landscape background in which dark greys, blues and earth tones predominate. Also striking are the silver coloured wine flask and the golden wine dish on the ground on the left, which are brilliantly painted with regard to their surface textures and colours.
Gentileschi painted this episode on a number of occasions, as did his workshop. The prototype for this group is the canvas now in the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles. The present oil has been identified as the work that Gentileschi painted in Genoa for Giovanni Antonio Sauli. It is mentioned in 1674 by Raffael Soprani, who stated that the artist painted a Danäe, a Penitent Magdalen and a Lot and his Daughters for this Genoese nobleman. Other versions of this subject are now in the Gemäldegalerie, Berlin and the National Gallery of Canada, while there are copies of those paintings in the castle at Carrù near Turin, at Burghley House, Stamford, and in a private collection in Rome. The Museo de Bellas Artes, Bilbao, has another version of this episode painted for Charles I of England. In that canvas, Gentileschi breaks the compact shape of the central group by setting the events inside the dark cave and moving one of the daughters, who is depicted standing, to one side.
Lot and his Daughters entered the Thyssen-Bornemisza collection in 1977. It was previously in a private UK collection and before that in a private collection in Arenzano.