Lamentations: Three Steps to Perdition
Rembrandt’s Jeremiah Lamenting the Destruction of Jerusalem provides the armature for Lamentations: Three Steps to Perdition, a keystone work in Dailey’s Lamentations series. In this pastiche of Rembrandt’s 17th-century rendering of the titular biblical prophet mourning the destruction of which he had prophesied, Dailey embeds nuclear iconography into Old Testament theology and imagery. The expanded background scene digitally manipulated into a nuclear apocalyptic vision heightens the drama of the original painting, generating a cognitive dissonance with this startling appropriation of the Old Master’s magnum opus. The Dutch artist’s characteristic use of powerful contrasts of light and shadow is effectively exploited in the trifecta created by the glowing mushroom cloud and bulbous highlighted forms of Jeremiah’s head and his rescued treasures.
Dailey further complicates the meanings of this work with the addition of the words Avarice, Revanchism, and Vanity carved into the steps leading to the inferno on the horizon. These are the three steps to perdition, the sins of a world seemingly on a self-made path to total annihilation. The repetitive sequence of gilded skulls framing the solemn composition contributes to the tension between beauty and horror evoked in the work.
Dailey’s reimagining of Rembrandt’s masterful painting and the biblical narrative that inspired it transcends biblical taxonomies of lamentations, resulting in a work with unnerving contemporary resonance that suggests a new visual lexicon for our nuclear age.