This apocalyptic painting, by the Flemish artist David Teniers III (c. 1638 – 1685), was inspired by the ancient Biblical story of Sodom and Gomorrah being destroyed by fire raining down from the sky. It is an episode that links into the larger narrative of tales about Lot and his family, who, in this instance, were warned by two angels of the impending destruction of the cities. The angels told Lot that he would be safe in the town of Zoar, and they warned him to not stop running before he and his family reached their destination. Most of all, however, the angels told him to, under no circumstances, allow himself or his family to look back on the burning city. Lot, unfortunately, would only be partially successful in carrying out the orders of the angels. The story can be found in the Book of Genesis: “By the time Lot reached Zoar, the sun had risen over the land. Then the Lord rained down burning sulfur on Sodom and Gomorrah—from the Lord out of the heavens. Thus he overthrew those cities and the entire plain, destroying all those living in the cities—and also the vegetation in the land. But Lot’s wife looked back, and she became a pillar of salt” (Genesis 19:23-26, NIV translation). Such is the story that inspired the artwork’s title and theme. Yet, that is where the Biblical inspiration ends. As for architecture, fashion, and other details of the fiery landscape, David Teniers III drew more on what he saw in his daily life than on ancient descriptions in the pages of the Bible.
Written by C. Keith Hansley