Lot and his Daughters: A story that couldn’t get any creepier, or could it?

This is my third article in a monthly series of articles about paintings that tell ancient stories, drawing from my Stories in Art project. I’m working my way chronologically through the Old Testament, so let’s review so far. Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of Knowledge, and God punished them by exiling them and sentencing women to painful childbirth. Cain killed Abel, and God punished him by making him a homeless wanderer. Ham didn’t turn away from his father’s shame, and God punished him by sentencing his descendants to slavery.

And now we come to Lot, whose daughters committed the unquestionably horrendous crime of incest. God sentenced Lot’s descendants to become the Kings of Israel and and the savior of mankind. God’s justice is truly beyond our understanding. Yes, that’s right, Lot is an ancestor of King David, and therefore also of Jesus Christ, but we’ll get to that in a minute.

The less said about the story of Lot and his daughters the better because this is a super-creepy story. Of course, some painters managed to make this scene much creepier than it needed to be. So what’s the deal here? In Genesis 19, Lot and his daughters were saved by God from the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah and they ended up living in a cave. Lot’s daughters found a “brilliant” solution to the procreation problem since all of the eligible bachelors had been destroyed. They got their father drunk to preserve his ignorance, and they slept with him.

I have several questions I wish to ask, and they all start with “Why?”, but for our purposes, let’s focus on this one: “Why paint this scene?” The short answer is that it’s from the bible, and it was important to illustrate the bible to a largely illiterate society. True enough, but that’s never the whole story. Sex sells, and thanks to the bible, artists got to paint some pretty saucy scenes and not get in trouble for it. 

Goltzius, Lot and his Daughters

Hendrick Goltzius
Lot and his Daughters, 1616
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

In my opinion, the creepiest depiction of Lot and his Daughters is by Hendrick Goltzius. No one went further out of their way to maximize the creepiness of this story. Goltzius imagines Lot as Bacchus, the host of a drunken orgy! What was wrong with this guy? Maybe he was hoping that his presumably male audience would be blissfully ignorant of this somewhat obscure biblical story and be able to focus on what’s important here, the ever popular myth that men tell themselves: chicks dig old men. I can’t stomach this painting for more than a moment, but if I could, I would applaud Goltzius for his truly gorgeous composition, and the masterful way that he twists this theme in to an opportunity to depict both the front and back of a female nude. Well done, creepy talented painter, well done.

Lot was saved from the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah for this? It’s hard to find a palatable moral in this story, but consider this: the sons of Noah and the daughters of Lot have three factors in common. They were singled-out to be saved from destruction, they made an effort to preserve the dignity of their father, and at least some of their descendants were rewarded by God’s favoritism.

After ‘the incident’, Lot’s eldest daughter gave birth to a son named Moab who became the father of the Moabites. Many, many generations later, we come to the Book of Ruth, which is story about a Moabite woman who married a man from Bethlehem, and remained loyal to his family after his death. Ruth becomes the mother of Obed, who was the father of Jesse, who was the father of  King David, who was an ancestor of Jesus Christ.

Gentileschi, Lot and his Daughters

Orazio Gentileschi
Lot and His Daughters, 1621-22
J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

This painting by Orazio Gentileschi (right) is one of the only paintings of Lot and his Daughters that I know where Lot doesn’t look like the host of a naked picnic. Gentileschi was one of the shining stars of the Baroque era, and he managed to craft a compelling scene without taking liberties with the story. He shows a little skin, but nothing like Goltzius, and he hints at the context by showing an empty wine jug, and a burning city in the distance.

I feel like a creep for even mentioning this, but Orazio Gentileschi often used his own daughter as a model in his paintings. If the model for Lot’s daughter was Orazio’s own daughter Artemisia, then this painting might actually be the creepiest one of them all.

Personally, I think this story is plenty creepy all on it’s own, especially if you read the rest of Genesis 19, and it is beyond my understanding why the following painters went out of their way to make this scene so much more creepy than it already is on it’s own:

Goltzius, Lot and his Daughters

Hendrick Goltzius
Lot and his Daughters, 1616
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

Hayez, Lot and his Daughters

Francesco Hayez
Lot and his Daughters, 1833
Private Collection, Britain

Massys, Lot and his Daughters

Jan Massys
Lot and His Daughters, 1565
Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts, Brussels

Wtewael, Lot and his Daughters

Joachim Wtewael
Lot and his Daughters, c. 1600
The Hermitage, St. Petersburg

Troy, Lot with his Daughters

Jean-François de Troy
Lot with his Daughters, 1721
The Hermitage, St. Petersburg


Stay tuned for next month’s article on Abraham’s efforts to ensure domestic tranquility by kicking his first son’s mother to the curb.

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