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The Judges Ibzan, Elon, Abdon, and Manoah, father of Samson

After Jephtah, Ibzan of Betlehem was Judge in Israel for seven years. Elon of Zebulun followed him for ten years. After him, Abdon son of Hillel of Pirathon was Judge of Israel. He was Judge for eight years. But again the Israelites began doing what was wrong in Yahweh’s eyes. Yahweh delivered the Israelites into the power of the Philistines for forty years.

The Annunciation to Manoah’s Wife

Jacopo Robusti called Tintoretto (1518-1594). The Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection -Madrid. Ca. 1555-1558.

There was a man called Manoah of Zorah of the tribe of Dan, married to a wife who was barren. She had borne no children. The angel of Yahweh appeared to the woman, told her to drink no wine anymore or to eat anything unclean. He told her she would conceive and give birth to a son who would be God’s nazirite from his mother’s womb to his dying day and this son would rescue Israel from the hands of the Philistines.

Jacopo Robusti’s ‘The Annunciation to Manoah’s Wife’ was made around 1555 to 1558, many years before the work on his most grand work, the decoration for the Scuola di San Rocco in Venice, which started in 1564. Jacopo Tintoretto was born in Venice in 1518. He lived all his life in Venice and died there in 1594. He lived in a period of glory for Venetian art; he was younger than its greatest artist, Titian. He shared Venice with Titian (who died in 1576), with Paolo Veronese (born in 1528 and died 1588) and Jacopo Bassano (died 1592) and so many other fine painters of the town. He was a Mannerist painter who had learned the unbridled imagination of Michelangelo’s presentations but he had a particular style that was powerful and original also, as it reflected his own passionate and obstinate character. Tintoretto was not a painter of small works. He painted large and firm and he preferred epic dimensions. He forced his views upon his audience instead of trying to please them. That audience however, controlled large parts of the Mediterranean and knew what power was about. So Tintoretto pleased the Venetians. The clergy of the lagoon town and the venerable Guardians of the Scuoli, the large and rich charity institutions of Venice, honoured him with their money for paintings because he was a man so much like them: a strong man reaching out on his own for new expression and new perspectives. Tintoretto applied his colours ardently and ruthlessly and he painted his figures in grand scenes of passion.

When Jacopo Robusti painted the ‘Annunciation to Manoah’s Wife’ he was about forty years old and he had not yet delivered his most formidable work. He was still looking to gain not so much the admiration of Venice as her astonishment. His picture is one of two paintings, painted both to Old Testament themes. The other picture is the ‘Meeting of Tamar and Judith’ and both pictures are now in the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection in Madrid. The pictures have a very similar composition.

In the ‘Annunciation’ we see Manoah’s Wife on the left, the angel on the right. The composition is in a traditional ‘Open V’ and in the open space between the two figures we remark a beautiful landscape, a sea with a port town. Tintoretto painted the angel and Manoah’s wife to the sides, even showing them only partly. He did that to be able to show more of the landscape. Few painters would have dared to cut off parts of their main figures of a theme, but we may assume that the pieces of Tintoretto were aimed primarily as decoration for a hall of a Venetian palace so that the decorative view received most attention. Tintoretto was already a renowned artist who could afford to use such a representation without being scolded at by his commissioners. He was also a painter who knew that his viewers would have no effort in imagining the whole figures. He knew that the power of imagination needed only to be stimulated a little by hints of figures.

The view of the landscape of Tintoretto is grand indeed. Tintoretto painted a dark green tree on the left and an ochre hillside on the right, still topped with a tree. The landscape view opens between these two. Jacopo Tintoretto was mostly concentrated on the expression of his figures, so this painting of a landscape is remarkable in that it proved Tintoretto also to be a great landscape painter – if he only thought landscape to be important. He obtained an astonishing, epic view by having the sun throw straight, silvery lines over lake and town. The view is imaginary, and does not have much to do with a Bible story, but it is particularly striking. Tintoretto applied several different hues of colour in the sky that lies heavily, laden with dark clouds over the view. The horizon is low and if the sky were not imposingly enough, Tintoretto added dark, massive hills – probably as he knew from the Venetian Alps – to the really flat and small town. We think of Naples, oppressed by its Vulcan, or of so many other small Italian towns in bays of the Adriatic of the Mediterranean/ Look at the marvellous play of light of the sunrays on the sea and on the clouds. The sea glows silvery and the sky is tainted yellow-orange with a richness of hues that reminds of Titian. The works of man, its architecture, is large and grand when compared to man himself, but here the Roman columns of ancient temples remain very small in the grandeur of nature.

Tintoretto borrowed elements form his illustrious competitors. He painted animals in his picture. We see cows, deer and birds. Jacopo Bassano was famous for his pictures of scenes with many animals. Bassano’s paintings were much admired in Venice. Tintoretto seemed to have told with this painting of the ‘Annunciation’ that he was Jacopo Robusti, but that he could also paint animal scenes if he only put his mind and considerable professional skills to it. He could be equal to Jacopo Bassano when it came to painting animals in landscapes.

But of course, Tintoretto was Tintoretto. So he stayed committed to force of colour – with which he could equal Titian – and to bring the expression of emotions spectacularly close to the viewer. The angel in his painting looks at the viewer and Manoah’s wife bows ostentatiously with grace.

Have a look at the angel. In the Bible story, Manoah’s wife doe not recognise the angle as an instrument or as a realisation of God when he tells her she will bear a child that will have to remain a nazirite. Even Manoah does not recognise the angel at first. Tintoretto however painted a real angel, at least as we are now used to: a fine youngster with wings. You could find no finer picture of an angel than here in Tintoretto’s picture. The angel wears a golden robe, golden wings and a green cloak. Tintoretto painted the angel in nice detail and in glorious, harmonious colours. The angel stands out in brightness against the dark background, but his figure is all sweetness, happiness. He is shown with a touch of determination on his face and also of surprised curiosity at the viewer. The angel seems to be a little in anger at the intrusion of the viewer. Tintoretto thus involves the viewer in his painting. That was also the directness of Titian’s portraits.

Manoah’s wife bows to the angel, receiving the annunciation of her pregnancy with Venetian grace. She is of course a Venetian noble lady, beautifully clad and with the opulent forms of happy wealth and ease of living. She wears a brick red robe in which Tintoretto has deployed all his skills of chiaroscuro to show the luxurious play of folds. She wears a dark shirt and has a yellow-golden cloak over her shoulders. The pictorial mass of the chest of the lady is smaller than the colour mass of her robe, but Tintoretto used the contrast between darker colours and brighter colours in the upper half to bring balance in the two areas. The bodice of the lady is very dark grey-blue, so she would not be very distinguishable from the dark background, but Tintoretto let the golden cloak fall low around her shoulders and body to make her figure very apparent against the background. All the colours are brilliant and vibrating in the lady, heavy and strong, with marked contrasts. That is a feature of all the colours of the picture. And Tintoretto knew of course in a masterly way to create volume by showing chiaroscuro in the faces of the lady, on her breasts and bare shoulders.

Tintoretto showed a scene of a Venetian court, not a scene from a small Canaanite Jewish village, where Manoah and his wife were nothing more than poor peasants. In the Scuola di San Rocco he would paint Biblical scenes very realistically, as they might indeed have looked like. Here he showed the wealth of Venice like Paolo Veronese would have done. So Tintoretto proved that he also could bring images like the young rising star Veronese.

Jacopo Tintoretto’s painting ‘The Annunciation to Manoah’s Wife’ is practically a programmed picture. This master delivered a picture to be liked by commissioners as a synthesis of Venetian art, a combination of style elements of Veronese, Titian and Bassano in the Tintoretto style. It is certainly also a special painting in content, as Tintoretto painted an annunciation not of the archangel to the Virgin Mary but to Manoah’s wife. So a host showing the picture to his visitors could show his erudition by remarking that this was not the annunciation to the Virgin, but to Manoah’s wife in another story of the Bible. The painting is a curiosity since the theme of the annunciation to Manoah’s wife is not a theme that was often painted.

Manoah offers a Sacrifice to God

Carle Van Loo (1705-1765). Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts – Paris. 1721.

The angel appeared a second time and also Manoah spoke to it this time. Manoah took a kid and offered a burnt offering to God. The angel of Yahweh ascended in the flames before the eyes of Manoah and his wife and they fell with their face to the ground.

The woman gave birth to a son and called him Samson. The boy grew up to a handsome and strong youth.

This was the story that Carle Van Loo painted in ‘Manoah’s Sacrifice’. Carlo Andrea Van Loo was born in 1705 in a family of painters, of which he represented the third generation and that would span five. His father was a famous painter as well but he died in 1712, when Carle was only seven years old. Carle’s brother Jean-Baptiste, then twenty-eight and already a known painter, took care of him and that meant recognising Carle’s great and precocious talent and training the boy into becoming a great artist. Of all the Van Loo painters, who covered two hundred years, Carle Van Loo was the most gifted.

Carle Van Loo made the painting ‘Manoah offers a Sacrifice to God’ in 1721. He was only sixteen then and with this piece he tried for a first price at the Parisian Academy of painting and Sculpture. The painting is still in the ‘Ecole Supérieure des Beaux-Arts’ today and an oil picture on canvas from the same year 1721, most probably a study for his final work is in the Museum of the town of Tours in France. The painting we have chosen is probably the first finished and conserved major painting of Van Loo. It is marvellous what a child of sixteen could prodigiously present.

The subject of Manoah’s sacrifice is not common in painting. It is also not a story that is well known from the bible, Manoah being only the father of Samson. How a sixteen-year old boy could come up with such a theme, whether he read the Bible so attentively as to be struck particularly by it, whether his brother advised him or maybe a priest, remains a mystery. Carle Van Loo came from a Dutch Protestant family but his father had left the Netherlands and had converted to Roman Catholicism in Lyon. Bible reading may have remained a custom in the Van Loo family so that Carle knew the smaller stories and themes of the Old Testament.

Manoah sacrifices an offering to Yahweh. An angel of God had visited himself and his wife before, but neither Manoah nor his wife had recognised an angel in the visitor. Now, in the smoke of the burnt offering to Yahweh, the angel of God shows and Manoah recognises the messenger as an emanation of god. Van Loo painted Manoah in front of the altar. The angel appears in the smoke.

Carle Van Loo’s painting is eminently Baroque, even though that period was coming to an end. Carle showed Manoah with a theatrical gesture of surprise and that feeling is shared by the friends and by the servants of Manoah’s household. Van Loo used a composition along the two diagonals. Manoah, a knelt servant and the angle indicate the left diagonal. Van Loo stretched Manoah along that line. The right diagonal starts from the lower right at the women holding a baby, goes over Manoah’s hands to the staff of the shepherds and to a tree in the upper left corner. At sixteen this boy had learnt about composition in paintings and used the lines of the frame to a design.

Carle Van Loo used mainly brown, yellow and ochre colours. A boy his age would have preferred more contrasting hues but Carle must already have had an acute sense of harmony in colours and known that blue had to be used sparingly. He did use blue, and the blue colour stands out in this picture, especially in the cloak of the mother on the right. This blue is too harsh. The other blues are more delicate however and better chosen, and Van Loo did enhance the right diagonal by applying some blue colour along this line: in the mother, in the maidservant beneath Manoah and in the sky in the upper left. The blue in the mother is too strong for the picture, but Carle Van Loo probably wanted a dark blue there to use deeper contrasts on the mother, more pronounced chiaroscuro in this part of the picture. He certainly brought light on this scene of the mother with child and also on the maidservant that is knelt in front of the altar, holding an incense burner, honoured with a patch of white. The baby of the mother is only clumsily drawn. Van Loo needed to learn still in anatomy of all ages. Bu t he knew already how to paint in more intricate detail the parts of a picture that were closer to the viewer and to paint in more hazy lines and less pronounced hues the background scenes, like the shepherds in this picture.

There are nice touches in the painting. Manoah was Samson’s father. Van Loo painted a mother with an infant baby in the right, referring to Samson and we cannot but reflect also on Jesus’ birth with that scene and an announcement to Mary and Joseph.

‘Manoah’s Sacrifice’ is not an ambitious painting, but the first work of a very young painter. It seems that the great painters were accomplished artists very soon and we see that also in many other painters. Genius and talent are in-born gifts that have to be present from the beginning, God-given, and that can only be perfected with time in the details. Carle Van Loo had that talent and genius, even if he is not enough appreciated today.

Other Paintings:

Copyright: René Dewil Back to the navigation screen (if that screen has been closed) Last updated: January 2007
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