William Bell Scott's The Eve of the Deluge (1865) depicts the prelude to the famous Biblical story of Noah's ark and the Great Flood. According to the Bible, Noah was ordered to build an ark and harbor his family and animals within the structure. God planned to flood the earth and destroy the human race, which had grown decadent and irreverent, but he wanted to preserve faithful Noah's life.

In the painting, Scott shows the day before the flood, during which God's chosen people board the ark. Scott, however, chooses to focus on the utterly degenerate royalty. Approximately one half of the painting (the left side) is filled with numerous figures, which are all illuminated. The king, with a smugly contented expression upon his face, reclines lazily upon his throne. He is flanked by half-naked women who lounge near him or drape themselves over his body. The animal skin that covers the king's legs, the profusion of flowers, and the cheetahs (presumably pets of the ruler), all of which are painted with great detail, add to the elaborate decadence of the scene. Members of the royal party point fingers at the second segment of the picture, Noah's ark. Storks fly in the vicinity of the royal quarters.

In the lower right portion of the painting, the pious people board the ark. Both the people and the ark are considerably covered in shadow and are much smaller in size, compared to the king and his followers. Furthermore, the second half of the painting is much simpler than the first half. The people and the ark contain less detail than the king and his retinue, and the ark takes up only about one quarter of the painting. The upper right half of the painting is devoted to an ominously red-tinged sky.

Scott writes the following on his painting: "They were eating and drinking Matthew XXIV, verse 38".

"The Eve of the Deluge" has much in common with PRB paintings. This piece is replete with details which provide much information upon examination.

Questions

1. In what ways is this piece typical of PRB paintings? Does the painting contain any elements that the PRB would not approve?

2. Why does Scott choose to focus on the decadent royalty, rather than the pious people? Particularly, why does he choose to bathe the king and his retinue in light, while casting Noah's people in darkness? What is the message that Scott is trying to send?

3. What is the significance of the storks and cheetahs? Do these two animals hold special significance in the Bible?

4. The color red is predominant in the painting. Is there a purpose for choosing this particular color?

5. Compare this painting to Hunt's The Hireling Shepherd. What are the similarities between both works?

References

The Fine Art Society Story. Part I. London: The Fine Art Society, 2001. Catalogue Number 129.


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Last modified 21 September 2004