Pisa, Italy, 1563-London, United Kingdom, 1639
Oil on canvas, 226 x 282 cm
Acquired in 1924
In 1626 King Charles I of England invited Gentileschi to London and commissioned several large-scale canvases from him. This work was one of them and relates the biblical passage in which Lot, having learnt of the destruction of Sodom, flew with his family. On the way his wife, depicted in the landscape as a minute figure, was transformed into a statue of salt when she disobeyed divine orders and turned back to look at the city in flames. Lot and his daughters took refuge in a cave where, in the fear of being left alone in the world, the girls intoxicated and seduced their father in order to bear his children. Gentileschi subtly suggests the eroticism of this delicate subject, symbolically brought into play in the context of the dynastic concerns of the English court, although he had depicted the subject previously in Genoa. The vine, the jug and the spilt wine allude to Lot’s inebriation in this open and elaborate composition, in which the three almost life-size figures stand out against the dark ground thanks to a dramatic lighting. The nuances of Lot’s iridescent robe and of the mantle worn by one of his daughters, painted in bright ultramarine, are rendered with great skill. During this London period Gentileschi’s painting evolved towards a refined colourful style, as exemplified by this magnificent work. In 1628 the painting was hung in Whitehall Palace and was subsequently taken to Greenwich Palace on the express wish of Queen Henrietta Maria, wife of Charles I. In the early seventeenth century Gentileschi met Caravaggio in Rome and became one of his most distinguished disciples, capturing his style with greater elegance and less tenebrism than other followers. After working in Rome, Genoa and Turin, and subsequently in Paris in the service of Maria de’ Medici, he eventually took up residence in London. [A.S.L.]
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