DÜRER, Albrecht
(b. 1471, Nürnberg, d. 1528, Nürnberg)

Lot Fleeing with his Daughters from Sodom

c. 1498
Oil and tempera on panel, 52 x 41 cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington

This delightfully spontaneous panel depicts Lot and his two daughters fleeing from the destruction of Sodom. In the story from Genesis, two angels warn Lot that he should escape before God destroys the city for its sins. Lot is told that his family must not look back, otherwise they will be turned into pillars of salt.

In Dürer's panel, Lot leads the way, dressed in a warm fur-lined coat and a magnificent turban. He carries a basket of eggs and has a flask of wine slung over his shoulder on his stick. His two daughters follow several paces behind, one bearing a bundle on her head and the other with an elegant casket and a distaff and yarn. Far behind them, near the towering rocks, is Lot's wife, transformed into a brown pillar of salt. In the distance the town of Sodom explodes with brimstone and fire, huge columns of smoke belching up into the sky. Gomorrah, in the far distance, suffers a similar fate.

This depiction of Lot's flight is not the main picture, but the reverse of a panel of the Virgin and Child. The two sides are quite different, not only in subject-matter but also in style. The Lot panel is painted in a loose, spontaneous manner, whereas the Virgin and Child is much more finely worked. However, Dürer must have intended them to be seen together. The panel was painted for the Nuremberg merchant family of Haller, whose arms appear in the bottom left corner of the panel of the Virgin.

Virgin and Child at a Window was long assumed to be the work of the Venetian artist Giovanni Bellini, because of its composition and colouring. In 1934 it was identified as a Dürer, painted about three years after his return from Venice. It was bought by Baron Heinrich von Thyssen-Bornemisza, who owned it until 1950.