Commentary by Hovak Najarian
Jezebel and Ahab Meeting Elijah in Naboth’s Vineyard, Frank Dicksee, 1853-1929 [The source of this painting did not cite the date or medium.]
The term “jezebel” has come to mean an embodiment of wickedness in a woman. This association comes from the beautiful Phoenician Princess Jezebel who married King Ahab of Israel during the time of the prophet Elijah. Jezebel was a worshiper of Baal, and a power-seeking woman with no qualms about using any means available to get her way, even murder. After Ahab took her as his bride, possibly for political reasons, she began scheming to bring about the worship of Baal in Israel. Jewish prophets were killed and Elijah was threatened. Ahab, the king, seemed to have neither the will nor the ability to prevent her from doing as she pleased.
One day Ahab decided the vineyard near his castle would be a nice place for a vegetable garden. The vineyard, however, belonged to Naboth and it had been in his family for many generations. Ahab offered to trade another piece of property or pay for it but his offers were rejected. Naboth told Ahab the Lord forbids him to sell his inheritance. When Ahab saw he could not acquire the property, he became ill and would not eat. Jezebel’s quick solution to the problem was to have Naboth killed. Frank Dicksee’s painting depicts the time after Naboths death when Jezebel and Ahab, along with their servants go to the vineyard to claim it. They are surprised by the appearance of a very angry Elijah. The expression on Jezebel’s face expresses her intense dislike of Elijah and her displeasure at being confronted. Early in Dicksee’s career he worked as an illustrator; the painting, “Jezebel and Ahab Meeting Elijah in Naboth’s Vineyard” is likely from that early period. It is a style associated with Sunday School storybook illustrations and differs from the subtle use of color seen typically in Dicksee’s mature paintings.
Dicksee was admired greatly in his lifetime. He became President of the Royal Academy of Art, he was knighted, and King George named him to the Royal Victorian Order. The measure of an artist, however, is determined usually by the insights and understanding they give us about ourselves and the world we experience. Frank Dicksee and Vincent van Gogh were born in the same year (1853) but they followed very different paths. Today, van Gogh’s work continues to stir our emotions whereas Dicksee’s paintings of romanticized events are rarely given attention by art historians.
This painting of Ahab, Jezebel and Elijah is being reproduced currently for commercial purposes and its medium is noted as, “giclee” (zhee-klay). The original image, however, was not created as a print. The French term “giclee, indicates simply that Dicksee’s painting (possibly a watercolor) was reproduced by a finer version of an inkjet printer. When the term “giclee” was coined, the calculated intent was to imbue this copying process with greater cachet. Artists now are creating images directly with inkjet printers but at the present time they are regarded still as pioneers in a new medium.
Hovak Najarian © 2013