Lot Taken Captive by the Army of the Four Kings from Prudentius, Carmina by Unknown, Region of Lake Constance

Unknown, Region of Lake Constance

Lot Taken Captive by the Army of the Four Kings from Prudentius, Carmina, c.900, Illumination on parchment, 27.3/28.3 x 21.5/22 cm, Burgerbibliothek, Bern, Cod. 264, fol. 31r (p.61), Digital Colorchecker – Prudentius, Carmina (https://www.e-codices.ch/en/list/one/bbb/0264)

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Sacking Sodom

Commentary by

This illumination presents the poignant moment when the army of the four kings from Mesopotamia, after seizing Sodom, are taking away the inhabitants and their goods (Genesis 14:11–12). The manuscript was probably produced at the beginning of the tenth century in the area of Lake Constance (Reichenau), and illustrates the Prologue of Prudentius’s Psychomachia, a sixth-century poem narrating the fight between virtues and vices. Between the ninth and the tenth centuries, glosses were added to Prudentius’s text to clarify and comment upon its allegorical meanings. In this manuscript, the glosses in the right margin explain that the kings represent the vices, and Abraham the fight against evil.    

The folio is divided into two parts. While the upper section contains the first fourteen verses of the Psychomachia (and some glosses), the lower part visualizes and comments upon the biblical narrative. Five soldiers, riding their imposing horses, have just left Sodom. The city, enclosed by crenellated walls with angular towers, appears abandoned but not destroyed. The soldiers drive the captives (including Lot) from the city, tormenting them with their lances. Below the captives, animals represent the food and possessions seized by the conquerors.

The artist enhances the pathos of the story through a juxtaposition of facial expressions, showing us the resigned attitude of the prisoners, the mute dialogue of the soldiers, and the ruthless expression of the horses. Some of the kings are depicted wearing scale armour and conical helmets, whose representation occurs more frequently in Byzantine manuscripts (Coupland 1990: 30–31). Through the depiction of exotic elements, the artist might have been referring to the relatively remote geographical provenance of the army.

This illuminated page has many different layers of meaning. On the one hand, it presents the biblical narration of Lot taken captive by the conquerors. On the other, Prudentius’s text and its glosses invite the viewer to explore the deeper allegorical significance of the scene: the kings represent the senses, and here Lot is subjugated by them. In this way—by extension­—the battle of Abram represents an ongoing, life-and-death battle against sin.

 

References

Coupland, Simon. 1990. ‘Carolingian Arms and Armor in the Ninth Century’, Viator, 21: 29–50