paintings of Noah and the Ark
'Noah's Ark', Edward Hicks, 1846
The animals enter two by two, and in this case the lambs and the lions are together, unconcerned by each other's presence. The ark waits to receive them, while storm clouds gather behind them.
This charming naive painting shows the animals entering the ark in a mood of serene harmony. Order is the order of the day. Meanwhile chaos, in the form of the ominous storm clouds behind the ark, is approaching. Between the order of the animals and the chaos of the clouds stands the ark, waiting to receive anyone who will enter.
'The Entry of the Animals into Noah's
The ark is not shown, but it must be nearby, since the animals assemble at Noah's command. He herds them as they mingle peacefully together - these are God's saved creatures who do not harm each other.
Brueghel manages to convey the plethora of animals and birds Noah had to collect. As if aware of their special status as saviors of their species, they mingle peacefully together. The birds at least seem to be arriving of their own volition, flocking in from afar.
Jan Brueghel the Elder has painted the sky sunny and clear: there is no hint of what is to come. It is an idyllic scene of abundant Nature, with Noah's family picnicking on the banks of the stream. But the clock is ticking....
Bible reference for this part of the story: Genesis 6-7
'Noah's Ark', Franzosischer Meister 'The French Master', 1675
Noah warns the people about the impending disaster, but they listen to him with amused skepticism. Undeterred, he rallies the troops to keep on building, while behind him the storm clouds begin to gather.
On the left side, there is lassitude, as the populace listens with amusement to Noah's warnings. But the right side of the painting is a hive of activity, as the sons of Noah work frantically to complete the ark before the clouds above them darken any more. The French Master has captured the urgency of the moment - and something of the futility of warning people about the consequences of their actions.
The Franzosischer Meister has placed Noah in an Arcadian, or perhaps medieval town. Go to Ancient Houses for reconstructions of the sort of town Noah might have lived in.
The rich, wicked inhabitants of the earth look on with amusement as Noah completes the ark. Their luxury and indolence are equated with evil - typical of the mid-Victorian era, when this painting was done.
These are the people the Bible describes in the words: '...the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only towards evil.' The dissipated people on this balcony cannot rouse themselves to action. They are enjoying the evening sunlight. But on the horizon a great cloud begins to form, gathering volume and strength.
Note: Noah was decidedly counter-cultural in his worship of a single god, placing himself at odds with the established religions of the ancient world. See Archaeology: Ziggurats for photographs and reconstructions of the ziggurats at Ur, where the story of the Flood may have originated.
William Bell Scott painted a number of religious paintings. 'The Rending of the Veil', (click on image at right) painted three years after 'The Eve of the Deluge', shows the moment of Jesus' death, when the curtain in the Temple is torn from top to bottom.
Bible reference for this part of Noah's story: Genesis 6
'Story of Noah', Lorenzo Ghiberti, circa 1420
In the top section, Noah warns his family about the impending deluge; the animals begin moving towards him. In the bottom right, Noah and his family offer sacrifice to God on the altar they have built. In the bottom right Noah lies drunk on the floor while his sons talk in the background.
This panel from the Gates of Paradise in Florence is a composite of the different parts of the story. Curiously, Ghiberti seems to have given prominence to the story of Noah's drunkenness - this is the part of the panel that captures the eye first. The story of the Deluge is relegated to second or even third place. Perhaps Ghibert wished to focus on the aftermath of the Flood, and what humanity would do with its second chance.
Child's toy, Unknown maker, 18th or 19th century
The ark as it might have looked if the Flood had occurred in the 18th or 19th century...
Art comes in all forms and this model, built as instruction for a child, shows the way the stories of the Bible permeated daily life during the 19th century. Preserved at the Manchester Art Gallery, the maker of this model seemed comfortable imposing 19th century architecture onto the mythic world of Noah.
'The Deluge', Francis Danby, 1840
The overpowering fury of the storm washes hapless humanity away from the rock they cling to. Earth and sky are full of water.
Danby specialized in paintings with epic subjects - this one is typical. Water dominates the landscape, and humans are dwarfed by it. In the background, under a single shaft of moonlight, is the ark. It is the only thing that seems calm. The waters swirl, dragging animals and people as they desperately try to cling to the mountain peak, now almost overwhelmed.
The Flood itself dominates this painting; behind it, however, the light surrounding the ark and the dove draw the viewer's eye.
terrifying image of a monstrous floor has poignant significance. Dali
painted it after the 1962
flash flood in
'The Flood', Norman Adams RA, 1970's
Massive storm clouds in the form of water flasks gather over the earth, ready to spill their contents.
In 1967 Adams was commissioned by the Oxford University Press to illustrate parts of the Old Testament. This is one of the paintings in that series. He had produced scenery for the Royal Ballet at Covent Gardens, and 'The Flood' has something of the drama and scale of a stage set. Adams' imaginative use of water flasks as storm clouds adds an extra dimension, since it suggests that the water will pour out in volume, rather than fall in rain.
For additional information on Adams, probably the most significant British religious painter of his generation, see http://normanadamsra.co.uk
'The Ark of Noah Drifting on the Water', Petrus Comestors, 1372
Noah and his family are inside the ark, safe from the swirling waters around them. God has locked them in, and the ladder falls away from the entrance.
This beautiful manuscript illustration shows the anxious faces not only of the humans inside the ark, but the birds and animals as well. Noah, wearing a medieval cap, faces his wife, also in medieval headdress. Their sons stand close to each wife, supporting each other in this terrifying situation. Notice that the ark is in the shape of a shell: it holds the seed of a new humanity, a new beginning for the earth.
Noah and his family, stained glass
Noah (at left), his wife and his family shelter in the safety of the neatly tile-roofed ark, while the waters foam beneath them.
This stained glass window originally formed part of the Marienkirche, but was transferred from Germany to the Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg during World War II. It is primitive in design, but effective nevertheless. Each face is different, individual - but all are somber. They seem uncertain that their little ark will survive the cataclysm outside.
'The Return of the Dove to the Ark', Sir John Everett Millais, 1851
Inside the art Noah's family shelters - including the young wives of his three sons Shem, Ham and Japheth. These are two of the young wives, fondling one of the young doves that Noah has collected.
The rain has stopped and the Flood is beginning to subside. But is it safe yet to leave the ark? Noah sends out a raven. It cannot find a tree in which to roost. Noah waits, then sends out a dove. It returns, unable to find a footing. Again Noah waits, then sends out the dove, hoping it will find a resting place. It returns with an olive twig in its beak. Noah then knows that trees are appearing above the water. Millais has shown this moment. The two young women fondle the dove, now a signal of hope for them all.
'Noah', Frank Wesley, 1980's
Noah opens a hatch in the side of the ark and releases the dove, hoping it will give him some sign that the waters have receded.
The themes and stories of Christianity have universal appeal. Here is an Indian interpretation of the story of Noah - note the design of the ark, based on Indian boats. The dove leaving Noah's hand seems almost an extension of Noah himself; both are straining upwards out of the darkness of the ark interior.
See Bible Heroes for the story of Noah, a good man in a wicked world.
'The Subsiding of the Waters of the Deluge', Thomas Cole, 1829
The deluge has ceased, the waters recede, and a new dawn opens up for the Earth.
The most startling quality of this painting is the clarity of light . It is as if the whole world has been washed clean of every tarnish, and now lies ready for a new dawn. Certainly wreckage is strewn in the forefront of the painting, and the ground is still awash with the receding floodwater, but light coming from some point at the right of the picture seems to announce the new world that God is offering Noah. Cole seems to suggest that this is the scene that greeted Noah when he removed the covering from the door of the ark.
'The Sacrifice of Noah', Michelangelo, 1508-12
The first thing that Noah did when he and his family left the ark was to build an altar and offer sacrifice to God, in thanks for their deliverance.
Comment: Noah and his family heap up the sacrificial flames as they prepare to make an offering of thanksgiving to God. Michelangelo has represented each member of the family here - none are omitted. Notice the detail of the slaughtered animals, and of the son with muscles straining under the load of firewood.
For a reconstruction of a
sacrificial altar from biblical times, see the Beersheba altar at
'The Sacrifice of Noah', Jacopo Bassano, circa 1574
The ground is strewn with wreckage, but Noah and his family build an altar to God in thanksgiving for their safe passage through the disaster of the Flood, then set to at their task of rebuilding.
The wreckage caused by the floodwaters is all too evident in the painting by Bassano. He concentrates on the task that Noah and his family face: of rebuilding a home and beginning all over again. The ground is strewn with their possessions, and the men have already set to in an attempt to provide shelter. The women do what women always do in a bad situation: get a meal going. Only the animals look nonplussed, dazed. In the background, removed from this hive of activity, Noah prays to God in thanks for the deliverance of his family.
'Noah's Ark', unknown Italian artist, late 16th century
Noah raises his hands in a prayer of thanksgiving to God. The ark, now emptied of its precious cargo, rests on firm ground at last.
This miniature agate carving was originally from the collection of the Duke d'Orleans. It was a devotional object for personal prayer, and presumably the person who carried it would be inspired by Noah's prayerful attitude to thank God as Noah had done for deliverance and safety.
'Noah's Altar', Antonio Carracci
The flames of the sacrificial altar rise up, so that 'the Lord smelled the pleasing odor'. Noah and his family give thanks to God, who promises never again to destroy the earth with water.
Notice the ark to the right of the painting, behind Noah. It is perched rather precariously on the peak of Mount Ararat. Notice too that most of the family have their backs turned towards it, and are focusing instead of the altar of thanksgiving. They must turn away from the past and focus instead on the future, and on worship of the God who saved them.
'The Drunken Noah', Giovanni Bellini
Noah has fallen drunkenly to the floor, and Ham is laughing - not just at his father's inebriation, but at his nakedness.
The laughter of Ham denoted a lack of respect, and in the hierarchical tribal system this was a serious flouting of protocol. Shem and Japheth, on the other hand, both avert their eyes from Noah's nakedness. Noah seems oblivious to it all, and his body is bathed in a curious golden glow, perhaps denoting the oblivion of drunken sleep. The grapes and cup have fallen to the floor.
At the beginning of his career, Giovanni Bellini was influenced by Mantegna (his brother-in-law). In his earlier religious studies are found the hard clarity, the stiff draperies and severity of drawing that characterise the Paduan school. But later in his career, in Venice, he became more romantic, his painting richer in color, softer and more technically skilled - as in 'The Drunken Noah'.
'The Drunkenness of Noah', Michelangelo Buonarroti, 1509
Two of the brothers, Shem and Japheth, avert their eyes from their father's naked body, while one of them attempts to cover Noah with a piece of cloth.
This painting is part of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Rome. At the left is an image of Noah, the first tiller of the soil. But the main part of the painting shows the drunken Noah, unaware of his own nakedness. One son points this out to his brothers, who try to cover Noah. Curiously, Michelangelo has shown all of the men naked, suggesting that it is not the nakedness that is the problem, but Ham's mirth at his defenseless father's predicament.
Noah falls helplessly to the ground, overcome by too much wine. One son, Ham, laughs at his father's nakedness, while the other two, Shem and Japheth, avert their eyes. They will not share in Ham's derision of his father.
Again, the artist has shown all the men in this picture naked. Lack of clothes, therefore, was not the problem. It was the son's lack of respect for his father, even when his father could not be said to deserve it, that was the pivotal offense calling forth God's punishment. Ham, who laughed, would be the father of the Canaanites, despised enemies of the Hebrew people.
Noah was a good man in a corrupt world. He walked with God. He had a wife, three sons, Shem, Ham and Japheth, and three daughters-in-law.
God saw the corruption and depravity of the world, and regretted creating people. But what He had created, He could destroy. Noah would be an exception. God would spare him and his family. He told Noah what He was about to do, and directed him to build an ark. In the ark he was to put pairs of all the animals and birds on the earth.
Noah was a contrarian. Despite the jeers of the people around him, Noah built the ark, collected the animals and birds, and prepared for the worst. It came. God opened the heavens and flooded the earth. Nothing and no-one was spared. Except every living creature in the Ark. And the fish, of course.
Noah and his family, locked inside the ark, were safe. Eventually the rain stopped. A wind, the breath of God, blew over the waters and they began to recede. Noah sent out birds to see what they would do. At first they could find nowhere to perch, but then one of them, a dove, failed to come back to the ark, and Noah knew it had found a branch on which to perch. When the earth was finally dry, God told Noah to leave the ark, freeing all the animals and birds as well.
The first thing that Noah did was to build an altar of thanksgiving to God. God made Noah a promise: that He would never again destroy all living creatures, as He had just done. As a sign of His promise, He made a rainbow across the sky.
Noah became the first tiller of the soil. He planted, among other things, a vineyard. When the grapes ripened he made wine, but he drank too much and became drunk. While he was drunk he threw off all his clothes and fell down, naked, on the ground.
His son Ham came in and saw him, and went off to get his brothers, so that they could see too. But they were more respectful towards their father, and shielded their eyes while they covered him.
When Noah woke up and heard what had happened, he was angry. He cursed Ham for his lack of respect. Ham was the father of Canaan, who was the forefather of the Canaanites, traditional enemies of the Hebrew people.
The Wickedness of People,
Command to build an Ark, Genesis 6:9-22
are the descendants of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his
generation; Noah walked with God.
The Great Flood, Genesis 7:1-24
the Lord said to Noah, ‘Go into the ark, you
and all your household, for I have seen that you alone are righteous
before me in this generation.
The Flood Subsides, Genesis 8:1-19
God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and all the domestic
animals that were with him in the ark. And God made a wind blow over the
earth, and the waters subsided;
God’s Promise to Noah, Genesis 8:20-22
Noah built an altar to the Lord, and took of
every clean animal and of every clean bird, and offered burnt-offerings
on the altar. 21And when the
Lord smelt the pleasing odor, the Lord
said in his heart, ‘I will never again curse the ground because of
humankind, for the inclination of the human heart is evil from youth;
nor will I ever again destroy every living creature as I have done.
The Covenant with Noah, Genesis 9:1-17
blessed Noah and his sons, and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and
multiply, and fill the earth. 2The
fear and dread of you shall rest on every animal of the earth, and on
every bird of the air, on everything that creeps on the ground, and on
all the fish of the sea; into your hand they are delivered. 3Every
moving thing that lives shall be food for you; and just as I gave you
the green plants, I give you everything. 4Only,
you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood. 5For
your own lifeblood I will surely require a reckoning: from every animal
I will require it and from human beings, each one for the blood of
another, I will require a reckoning for human life.
Noah the First Farmer, Genesis 9:18-29
sons of Noah who went out of the ark were Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Ham
was the father of Canaan.
Bible Art: Paintings and Artworks from the Old and New Testament: Noah, the Great Flood or Deluge, the First Farmer - Bible Study Resource