THE WISE DREAMER: on the wings of ‘The Dream of Solomon’ by Luca Giordano
The mysteries and histories of dreams and visions have long impressed man and aroused his curiosity. They feature commonly in the Bible. God who could manifest Himself through thunderstorms and earthquakes was believed to communicate through dreams as well. Right from Abraham to Abimelech, from Jacob to Joseph and from Samuel to Daniel, the Almighty revealed his divination through visions and dreams. The most popular impression among them is the dream of Solomon.
The plot goes thus. King Solomon ‘loved the Lord’ (1 Kings: 3:3). He went to Gibeon, the most important high place, to offer a thousand burnt offerings. That night God appeared to the king in a dream and offered him a boon. Rather than bidding for long life, riches or success at war, the young king prayed to be endowed with wisdom. His request pleased Yahweh who rewarded the king multi fold with wisdom, wealth and fame.
Luca Giordana enlivens this tantalizing and intangible episode by striking his brush and imagination. Far from extinguishing the visible through the dark of the night, Giordana allures the invisible through the glistening lights. The scene is cast not on earth but among surging billows of clouds.
We are at once captivated by the image of God the Father. Enveloped in glorious splendour, His outstretched arms and sublime majesty embraces the earthly ruler. He is surrounded by the heavenly host, each absorbed in action. The first blurts, ‘How marvellous is the sight!’ the second with hands joined acknowledges, ‘All Glory to God’. The angel to the right of the Almighty mourns at the bleak of the eventual while the ones below hush the curious mortals.
A ray of light converses Yahweh to the next protagonist. Upon an ornate berth reclines a serene, strong and sensitive Solomon. The youthful king is rendered semi nude and draped with elaborate folds of linen sheets. His chin is tucked upwards as he encounters the Divine.
Right above the king in profile is the key of the painting; the charming Minerva in dazzling drapery. Minerva was the Roman goddess of weaving, poetry, music, commerce, medicine and above all wisdom and strategic warfare! The owl, an attribute of wisdom, perches among the plumes of her head gear. Her left hand clinches onto a book abided by a lamb. Her right hand holds a shield with the image of a radiating dove. Her gaze is anchored to God the Father. Thus she announces the mystery of the Trinity and the fulfilment of law.
The golden headboard upon which the king reposes is fashioned as a faun; a pre Christian symbol for wisdom. The laid aside royal crown and sceptre symbolizes Solomon’s submission to the heavenly and eternal King. To his left is stretched an architectural setting. This prefigures the renowned temple that Solomon built in honour of Yahweh in the 10th century BC. It housed the Ark of the Covenant until it was destroyed by King Nebuchadnezzar II after the Siege of Jerusalem in 587 BC.
Thus the painting takes us onto an artistic, historical, symbolical, intellectual and spiritual journey. Solomon an amateur king, given the circumstances of internal and external threats, should have seemingly opted for security of wealth and power. The fact that he chose wisdom capitalizes the significance of choosing the harder right than the easier wrong. Solomon was aware that if God was with him nobody could stand against him. He knew that ‘The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.’