Jonah and the Whale

A powerful storm scene incorporating a genre subject and the dramatic biblical story of Jonah and the whale. In the central foreground, a ship is shown tossed amid a stormy sea, with land in the distance on the far right and left. Other shipping is also visible in the distance to left and right. The central vessel is a two-masted lateen-rigged craft of the Mediterranean settee type. The rigging has been carefully delineated and the foresail flaps in the storm. A sailor stands barefoot in the stern as he clings on to the rudder, and several other figures are present on the deck.

The narrative captures the moment when the crew are preparing to throw Jonah overboard. The whale is depicted in the left foreground as a fantastical creature spouting water and with his mouth open to reveal rows of teeth. The painting focuses on the emotions and actions of both the terrified crew and Jonah. Two crewmen hold him and, with arms outstretched, he is about to be thrown overboard to meet his fate. The drama of the scene is created by the desperation of the figures, and enhanced by the dramatization of the traditionally menacing Leviathan. In the distance to the right, a continuous narrative shows Jonah washed up on the shore.

In Flemish art, through the dramatization of both the tempest and human reactions to it, the narrative could also form a metaphor for the intensifying confrontation of man and nature. The elemental powers of the sea and sky are here depicted as the cause of the sailor's terror. The artist has used strong contrasts of light and dark in the foreboding clouds and the swelling waves to suggest the intensity of this conflict. This painting was formerly attributed to Pieter Mulier the Younger, called Tempesta, 1636-1701.

Object Details

ID: BHC0881
Collection: Fine art
Type: Painting
Display location: Not on display
Creator: Mulier, Pieter; Tavella, Carlo Antonio
Date made: Mid 17th century
People: Jonah
Credit: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London, Palmer Collection. Acquired with the assistance of H.M. Treasury, the Caird Fund, the Art Fund, the Pilgrim Trust and the Society for Nautical Research Macpherson Fund.
Measurements: Frame: 730 mm x 969 mm x 57 mm;Overall: 12 kg;Painting: 584 mm x 838 mm

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