Jael, late 19th Century
Orazio Andreoni (active 19th Century)

Image © Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum

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Jael (or Yael) plays an important role in the story of Israel’s wars with the Canaanites, described in the Book of Judges, the seventh book of the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Old Testament. In the narrative about the military heroine Deborah, Deborah first sends Barak to fight the Canaanites, and when he protests that he will not go unless she goes too, she agrees to accompany him but prophesies that the victory will not be a glory for him because Sisera (commander of King Jabin’s army) will fall ‘by the hand of a woman’.

When the battle goes disastrously for Sisera, rather than die with his men on the battlefield, he flees to Jael’s tent, hoping to find refuge. Instead, Jael kills him by driving a tent peg through his temple, thus fulfilling Deborah’s prophecy.

The statue depicts Jael not as a brutal killer but in the calm act of lulling Sisera into a false sense of security. Her extended right hand holds a jug of milk from which she poured her enemy’s drink. Behind her back, half-concealed by her dress, she clenches her left fist around the instrument of his demise. With her luxurious dress and aloof expression, Jael is firmly characterised as a formidable Old Testament heroine.

Andreoni was a prolific sculptor of figures and busts. He was based in Rome, but sent works for exhibition to Glasgow, Paris, Berlin and he was active for a time in America. This exposure established his international reputation. Andreoni specialised in historical and biblical subjects. Perhaps Andreoni’s greatest contribution was his large workshop in Rome where a generation of sculptors received their training.


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