Front Cover – The Triumph of Fortitude – detail – Brussels 1525
Jael and Sisera
Room 2 - Medieval and Renaissance Art is a somewhat gloomy backwater of Liverpool’s magnificent Walker Art Gallery. To get to it you have to pass various examples of old shite like Poussin’s Burying the Ashes of Phocian, an early Rembrandt self portrait, Rubens’ Virgin and child with St Elizabeth, several Veroneses and a Michaelangelo drawing. But once you’re in that room you’ll almost certainly be alone – and there’s a bench in front of the masterpiece so you can gawp in comfort.
It is The Triumph of Fortitude, a Brussels tapestry of 1525. The thing that strikes you is how many of these icons of courage are women. Fortitudo is symbolically female and there’s then there’s Judith and Holofernes (top left), Chloelia, Cinope Queen of the Amazons, Penthesilea another Queen of the Amazons and Thomyris Queen of the Massagetae (in the middle holding the head of Cyrus).
Top bitch must surely be Jael who is shown killing Sisera. Following a successful surprise attack by the Israelites in which 900 of his charioteers were defeated, Sisera escaped and sought refuge in the tent of Jael, wife of Heber the Kenite. She gave him food and drink, but when he fell asleep, she drove a tent peg into his brain. (Judges 4:12-24).
On no account have a row with Jael if you’re camping. “Yes dear, I quite agree. After that huge meal of baked beans it’s only fair that I should sleep under a tree rather than share our double sleeping bag. Pity it’s raining.”