Departure of Lot and his Family from Sodom
Peter Paul Rubens, Flemish 1577-1640
SN 218, Oil on Canvas about 1613-15

by Robert Anderson.

Peter Paul Rubens, along with the Italian sculptor Gianlorenzo Bernini, was one of the greatest artists of the 17th century. His canvases can be said to define the scope and style of high baroque painting through their energy, earthy humanity and inventiveness. A devoutly religious man, a man of learning and a connoisseur of art and antiquities, he was also a man of the world who succeeded not only as an artist but as a respected diplomat in the service of Isabella and Albrecht of the Spanish Netherlands.

Travels to Venice where he studied Titian, Veronese & Tintoretto freed his artistic talent from rigid classicism. While he did incorporate copies of classical statues in his paintings he always avoided the appearance and coldness of stone.

To the contrary, his nudes, for which he became famous, always depicted an ample female form of vitality and good health as well as of sensuousness. His mastery of color along with his knowledge of antiquity is seen particularly in his mythological paintings.

Rubens became the most influential figure in Baroque art in Northern Europe. His reputation was established in part thru the sheer scale and grandeur of his finished paintings which gave them an extra symphonic dimension. His mastery of history painting in the Grand Manner and the immense vigor of his style was unsurpassed.

As court painter and confidant to the Archduchess Isabella Clara Eugenia, Rubens recognized the role art was to play in the Counter Reformation. His genius found expression in his designs for the Triumph of the Eucharist tapestries which he and his assistants completed between 1625 and 1628.

Knighted by two monarchs and master of a successful workshop, Rubens became rich and famous in his own time. Having executed over 3,000 paintings, woodcuts and engravings of all types, he died the most respected artist of his time in 1640.

The story of Lot and his family leaving Sodom is told in the Old Testament, Book of Genesis 19 : 1-28. God did not approve of the morals of the people of Sodom and decided to destroy the city and everyone in it. He was willing to save Lot and his family because Lot had been kind and protective of two angels who had been sent to Sodom as messengers. The townspeople had wanted to attack and despoil them.

Lot, his wife, and his two daughters were sent from the city before its destruction. They were told by the angels to go into the mountains and not to look back at Sodom lest they also be consumed by God's wrath. Lot's wife did look back and was turned into a pillar of salt.

Later, Lot's daughters made their father drunk and committed incest with him in order to have children. Their descendents, the Ammorites, became enemies of Israel.

This picture was painted by the master's own hand, although some critics have thought that Van dyck might have participated. It is a dramatic and colorful version of the story and is one of the most popular and best known paintings in the Ringling Museum.

The painting shows Lot, his wife, two daughters and two angels leaving the city. Rubens chose to depict a moment of joy mixed with sadness. Joy that they are saved from destruction - sadness that they must leave all their possessions and their friends to the wrath of God. Lot's wife is pictured as despondent, just before looking back at Sodom, for which she was turned into a pillar of salt.

The daughters are seen to have taken golden objects with them against the dictates of the angels (note the candlesticks are seen under one daughters dress). These actions might be seen as an indication of the daughters' wayward inclinations which were to culminate in their incestuous relationship with their father.

Historical Context:
This story is one part of a continuing saga of God's problem with the human beings he had created. They are prone to act in a way unacceptable to God although they have been told what is acceptable and what is not.

The story of Sodom and Gomorrah follows the expulsion of Adam & Eve from Eden for disobeying God's edict ; the curse put upon Cain for slaying his brother and the flood to sweep away all the wicked people, saving only Noah and his family. It took place in the time of Abraham, the patriarch of the Hebrew people who was the uncle of Lot.