The work was painted in 1617 by Giovanni Francesco Guerrieri for the Palazzo dei Borghese in Campo Marzio, on commission from Prince Marcantonio Borghese. The subject is from Genesis (19: 30-38) and depicts the miraculous flight of Lot and his family from the city of Sodom, destroyed in a rain of fire and sulphur, according to tradition. After losing his wife, who was turned into a pillar of salt for having disobeyed a divine order, the old father stayed alone in a cave with his two young daughters, who ensure the continuity of the lineage by getting their father drunk, and having him unconsciously commit an incestuous act when they take turns lying with him.
Salvator Rosa, 167.3 x 189 x 10.5 cm
Rome, Marcantonio Borghese Collection, 1617 (Della Pergola 1959, p. 94, no. 134); Inv. 1693, room III, no. 1; Inv. 1700, room V, no. 37; Inv. 1790, room III, no. 28; Inventario Fidecommissario 1833, p. 14; purchased by Italian state, 1902.
This work was commissioned to Giovan Francesco Guerrieri by Prince Marcantonio Borghese, who in October 1617 ordered two frames for this canvas and its pendant, Jael and Sisera, which has gone lost. The two paintings were intended as overdoors for two rooms of Palazzo Borghese in Ripetta. Shortly afterwards, the work in question was moved to the Villa di Porta Pinciana. It was variously attributed over the next two centuries: to Archita Ricci of Lucca by Iacomo Manilli in 1650, to Franciabigio in the 1693 inventory, and to Gherardo delle Notti in the inventory of 1790. The last-mentioned name was repeated in both the Inventario Fidecommissario of 1833 and the catalogue by Giovanni Piancastelli (1891, p. 402). In 1909, however, Lionello Venturi took up Manilli’s suggestion that the work was by Archita Ricci.
The debate over the attribution of the painting continued over the following decades, with Hermann Voss suggesting Rutilio Manetti (1910, III, pp. 216-217) and Giulio Cantalamessa observing that ‘this a good work from the naturalist period of the 17th-century Roman school’ (1912, no. 45). Taking this opinion in consideration, Roberto Longhi ascribed the canvas to Artemisia Gentileschi (1916, XIX, p. 291). Several years later (1928, p. 180), Longhi noted its similarity to two variations on the theme, held today in Rome at the Galleria Doria Pamphili and the Galleria di Palazzo Corsini, respectively. Paola della Pergola (1959, pp. 94-95) put a definitive end to the debate when she affirmed that the painting in question was the work of the artist from Fossombrone, basing her conclusion on a document found in the Borghese Archive (Della Pergola 1956, pp. 225-228). Critics have accepted her view and recognised that the contrasting opinions that had until then been expressed about the work’s origin stemmed from Guerrieri’s extraordinary artistic culture, which combined the experiences of various schools – Roman, Tuscan and Flemish.
As Andrea Emiliani (1997) and Elena Fumagalli (1997) forcefully demonstrated, the painting is a refined exemplar of the artist’s ability to represent subjects in candlelight. In this regard, Guerrieri was very likely influenced by the work of Gerrit van Hontorst – whom our sources show to have been in Rome from 1616 to 1620 – as well by that of Luca Cambiaso and the artists of the Bassano family, whose paintings formed part of many Roman collections. Guerrieri indeed grafted these influences onto his thorough training in the techniques of Caravaggio: combining these various inspirations with a scrupulous depiction of objects, he achieved some extraordinary technical results, such as the reflections of the fingers on the surface of the jug (whose dragon-shaped handle, incidentally, alludes to the Borghese coat of arms).
The scene depicts the episode from Genesis (19:30-38) in which Lot, nephew of the patriarch Abraham, takes refuge in a cave together with his daughters after saving himself from the destruction of Sodom. The condemned city was in fact pulverised by a storm of fire and brimstone, to which the reddish glare in the background alludes. His two daughters are represented next to him: after getting him drunk, they lay with him to guarantee the continuity of the family line. According to tradition, two sons, Moab and Ammon, were born from these incestuous unions, the progenitors of the Moabites and Ammonites, traditional enemies of Israel.
A replica of this painting – which Andrea Emiliani (1991, p. 34 and 1997, p. 75) believes to be by Guerrieri but which in the view of Fumagalli (1997, p. 92) is a mere copy – is held today by the Galleria Doria Pamphili in Rome.