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Leandro Bassano, The Tower of Babel

Key facts
Full title The Tower of Babel
Artist Leandro Bassano
Artist dates 1557 - 1622
Date made about 1600
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 137.1 × 189.2 cm
Inscription summary Signed
Acquisition credit Bequest of Lt. Colonel Olney in 1837
Inventory number NG60
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
Previous owners
The Tower of Babel
Leandro Bassano

The story of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11: 1–9) is intended to explain the existence of different languages. After the Great Flood, all of humanity spoke the same language. Noah’s great-grandson, Nimrod, decided to build a tower in Babel that would reach heaven. When God saw it, he was angry and made people speak different languages so they could no longer understand one another. The building stopped.

Nimrod appears in the middle distance of Leandro Bassano’s painting. Bricklayers work at either end of the large square tower on wooden scaffolding. A labourer carts bricks in a wheelbarrow while another mixes mortar with a long stick.

A stonemason chips away at a block with his hammer and chisel. His ceramic jug and half-drunk glass of red wine stand on the ground beside him and a little boy sits holding his chisels. This painting gives us an impression of what a sixteenth-century Italian building site might have looked like.

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