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Spared on account of his virtue, Lot escaped God’s destruction of the immoral city of Sodom with his wife and two daughters. After the loss of his wife, who was turned to salt for disobeying God’s command not to look back at the burning city, Lot’s own daughters seduced him in order to ensure the continuation of the human race. This Old Testament subject was popular in the seventeenth century, chiefly for its moralising potential and the dramatic possibilities that can be seen in this painting.
Lot and his two daughters shelter in a cave as plumes of smoke billow from the distant city. Overlapping limbs and swathes of red, blue and yellow drapery pull the three figures together to form a strong triangular arrangement. Lot looks hazily to the ground, seemingly unaware of the unsteady drinking cup he holds in his hand. A shadow cast by his wide-brimmed hat falls over his eyes, symbolic of his obliviousness to the intentions of his alert and scheming daughters.
An exquisite still life occupies the right side of the canvas. Musty-skinned fruits hang down from a Wan-Li porcelain bowl, their bulbous forms echoed in the magnificent gilded ewer on the ground below. An uneaten hunk of cheese and stacked empty oyster shells suggest the banquet is well underway; in the seventeenth century the latter were judged to be an aphrodisiac. The lone butterfly, set against the glow of the distant devastation, may well symbolise the continuation of life beyond the ashes.
The painting is indebted to the work of Bloemaert’s many pupils, notably the works Gerrit van Honthorst was producing in the 1620s. Its classicising and monumental style has resulted in the painting being attributed to several artists over the years, including Peter Paul Rubens. The discovery of a signature and date during the painting’s restoration in 2004 shows it to be a fine example of a work painted at the height of Bloemaert’s artistic maturity, when he was in his late 50s, but was still keeping up with the latest trends in painting with the gusto of a budding young artist.
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