Polychrome war relief with partial gilding
Height: 41.8 cm, width: 32.5 cm
Within the original frame, height: 62 cm, width: 52 cm
Mid 17th century
An erotical scenery
The scene is erotically laden: two scantily clad young women have a rendezvous with an elderly man. One is holding a jug filled with wine; the other places her arm around the old figure who is obviously already drunk, as he approaches her with a lecherous look in his eye. The beauty, with a gossamer cloth draped over her thigh and arm that wraps around her body like a snake, has a Venus-like appearance – not only to the man at her side but, and in particular, to the viewer of this skillfully worked relief. The other female figure, also dressed like a goddess from Antiquity, is depicted in profile. She reveals her sensuously bared back, arm and shoulder as well as her right leg.
What is actually shown here, however, is the story of Lot as described in the Book of Genesis, chapter 19:30–38. Lot has fled the lost city of Sodom together with his two daughters:
and the firstborn went in and lay with her father; and he perceived not when she lay down, nor when she arose. And it came to pass on the morrow that the firstborn said unto the younger: Behold, I lay yesternight with my father. Let us make him drink wine this night also and go thou in and lie with him that we may preserve the seed of our father. And they made their father drink wine that night also and the younger arose and lay with him; and he perceived not when she lay down, nor when she arose. Thus were both the daughters of Lot with child by their father. And the first born bore a son and called his name Moab: the same is the father of the Moabites unto this day. And the younger, she also bore a son and called his name Benammi: the same is the father of the children of Ammon unto this day
A pragmatic procedure
Lot’s daughters see things pragmatically. As the only female survivors of the catastrophe they are afraid that they are the last in the human race. In their desperation they decide to weaken their father’s will by plying him with wine before having intercourse with his own offspring.
Both the act of incest with the father as well as intercourse without mutual consent with someone intentionally made drunk are taken as being symptomatic of the sinner´s life: luxury items such as jewellery and the valuable jug underline this scene which, in addition to being a depiction from the Bible, is also an allegory of sexual pleasure. The beautiful, naturalistically depicted, naked women’s bodies stand for lust and embellishments of worldly trumpery. Lot’s two daughters, however, make an appealing subject for admirers of art, readily revealing the double standards of the times with the viewer shuddering at the horror and simultaneous sensuality of the scene.
For this depiction the artist uses one of the oldest raw materials – beeswax. Since Antiquity wax has been valued as a material for its aesthetic and intrinsic qualities. Purified and bleached wax bears similarities to the human skin like no other material used in sculpture. Wax is easy to model, cast and rework at a later stage, something that is not possible with clay or cast metals. Wax can easily be mixed with pigments as well or painted in different colours. By mixing additives wax can also be made softer or harder. Every workshop had its own recipes. In his treatise on sculpture, Della Scultura, Giorgio Vasari (1511–1574) writes that wax becomes softer after adding fat, less malleable after adding terpentine and hard when mixed with pitch. Wax was also a popular material for portrait medallions.
Sodom and Gomorrah
In the Old Testament (1st Book of Genesis) the two cities Sodom and Gomorrah near the Dead Sea are described as places where people led immoral and wicked lives. To punish them “the Lord rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from out of heaven”. Only Lot and his daughters were saved although, through their incestuous deeds, their own grave wrongdoing weighed heavily on them. To this day, Sodom and Gomorrah stand for misrule, depravity and debauchery, even if the expression that somewhere is ‘like Sodom and Gomorrah’ is often a gross exaggeration.
Popular since antiquity
Beeswax (Latin: cera flava) is a wax secreted by bees and used to build honeycombs. Bees themselves can produce wax – the building material for their honeycombs – from the age of twelve days. The basic prerequisite for this is honey as food. About four to ten kilos of honey are needed for one kilogram of wax. The so-called wax glands from which bees squeeze out the wax are found on the underside of the abdomen.
Beeswax also burns extremely well. Torches were made of wax even in antiquity. Incidentally, in medieval churches and monasteries, only beeswax candles were used as the bee was considered a symbol of virginity due to the erroneous assumption at the time that it reproduced asexually.
Thirty Years’ War
Daniel Neuberger the Younger was born in the Fugger city of Augsburg in 1621. Only three years earlier the Thirty Years’ War, the religious struggle and trial of strength between European rulers, had begun following the ‘Defenestration of Prague’.
Young Daniel must have had a deprived childhood; his youth and early adulthood were also marked by war and misery – sometimes Bavarian and imperial troops, other times Swedish troops beleaguered the Free Imperial City. After the devastating defeat of the Swedes near Nördlingen, Augsburg suffered its greatest hardship in autumn 1634: imperial and Bavarian troops sealed off the city with the intention of starving it out. All access routes were blocked and the water supply was partially cut off. A terrible famine afflicted the city with up to 5,000 dying by the end of 1634.
Finally, towards the end of the Thirty Years’ War, between 1646 and 1648, Augsburg once again found itself in the face of another armed conflict.
Today, the Swedish Tower with the statue of the ‘Stoinerner Ma’ (stone man) and the Swedish Staircase are reminders of the Thirty Years’ War. Both formed part of Augsburg’s fortifications.