This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
The Flight into Egypt A Transcontinental Trip
1 – Flight into (or Return from?) Egypt, old icon in the Coptic Museum, Cairo Looking for a Hospitable Town According to the canonical Gospel of Matthew and to a few apocryphal sources, in order to escape persecution by the tyrant Herod, Mary and Joseph fled from Israel – alias from Palestine – into Egypt, from a continent to another, from their own to a different culture. Notoriously, that was the subject of hundreds of paintings. At Rome, in the ancient mosaics of the Basilica of S.ta Maria Maggiore, we have some references to the episode. The oldest real representation dates from the 8th century. It can be found in a fresco inside the Church of S.ta Maria Antiqua. An analogous one is in the Church of S. Urbano alla Caffarella (early 11th century). In both pictures, very damaged, Mary with a baby Jesus is portrayed while riding seated on a donkey. Joseph is walking behind. Perhaps James the Less, a youth pulls the animal by a halter, while entering the door of a walled city. This last detail is visible also in old Coptic icons, inspired by the apocryphal Theophilus’ Vision. 1
In similar representations, Joseph himself leads the donkey. Already in a golden relief reliquary at the Ottoman Museum of Istanbul (7 th century), such will be the main pertinent iconography, during a long period in the history of European art. Rarely, he is Joseph who carries the child in his arms or even on his shoulders. Sometimes, the mount is a horse or a mule. Other characters may go ahead, as a guiding angel, or escort the Holy Family, as a legendary pious woman named Salome: for instance, in a mural painting of the 9th century inside St. John’s Abbey at Müstair, Switzerland. There, also the setting of the scene is interesting. More evidently, about at an end of its trip, the group is entering a town. We may suppose, an Egyptian one, which both St. Joseph and the infant Christ are blessing with a gesture of their hands. Actually, it looks very different from the background in other pictures of the same kind, which is a country or a desert landscape, or else a neutral space.
2 – Giambattista Tiepolo, Flight into Egypt, Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, Lisbon The apocryphal Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew reports that the name of such a town was Sotinen – or Sotrina –, ruled by one Affrodosius or Aphrodisius. Let us read its Latin version, and an English translation: ecce prospicientes videre coeperunt montes Egyptios et civitates eius. Et gaudentes et exultantes devenerunt in finibus Hermopolis, et in unam ex civitatibus Egypti quae Sotinen dicitur ingressi sunt; et quoniam in ea nullus erat notus apud quem potuissent hospitari, templum ingressi sunt, quod capitolium Egypti vocabitur (“they looked forward, and began to see the mountains and cities of Egypt. And rejoicing and exulting, they came into the regions of Hermopolis, and entered a certain city of Egypt which is called Sotinen; and because they knew no one there from whom they could ask 2
hospitality, they went into a temple which was called the Capitol of Egypt”; chap. XXII). The names of further Egyptian localities, Memphis and Matariyya, now a suburb of Cairo, are mentioned in another apocryphal text, the Arabic Gospel of the Infancy of the Saviour. Indeed, not rarely Arab writers confused the ancient name of Memphis with Misr al-Qadima, the Old Cairo. A reference to Cairo, as a halting place for the Holy Family, can be read in the Armenian Infancy Gospel too. Moreover, the ruins of the Roman fortress of Babylon are in that area. There and in the surroundings, most Coptic traditions concerning the Flight into Egypt are concentrated still today. We are allowed to infer, Mary, Joseph and Jesus, spent a considerable time of their exile just in suburban Cairo. This is, at least, a diffuse belief in the Egyptian Christendom itself. Toward and from Hermopolis (nowadays, Al-Ashmuneyn), they had to cross the Nile, what explains another old figurative standard.
3 – Annibale Carracci, Landscape with the Flight into Egypt, Doria Pamphilj Gallery, Rome In fact, in not a few Coptic icons we can see the Holy Family on a boat, sometimes with the nice detail of the donkey included. In the European painting, this typology is quite rare. Giambattista Tiepolo drew or depicted several variants about the topic, which was impressive on the Venetian artist (1696-1770). Analogous representations are by his son Giandomenico, Poussin, Giordano, Castiglione, Fragonard, Corot. Before them Annibale Carracci, of Bologna, painted a Landscape with the Flight into Egypt (1604; Doria Pamphilj Gallery, Rome). If we look at attentively, will notice Mary, Joseph and the donkey, stepping out from a boat which carried them across a river. Here the ferryman is a human being, not an angel as in Tiepolo’s pictures. In the background of the natural ambient, we can discern a high citadel, where presumably the fugitives were not welcome. Nor was the detail of a ferry boat new, having been already employed by the Flemish painter Joachim Beuckelaer. An Iconography of the Space At the beginning or at the end of the journey, or somewhere else along the route, indeed often we find hints to urban settings, since the couple with their baby are searching for a halting place where they may live a safe life. But what matters more is the space in the midst. It is a vast unknown extent to be crossed. The evangelical narration, especially the concise canonical one, lets the artists free to interpret it. In their imagination sometimes it is 3
an idyllic one, other times a space of fear and desolation, not devoid of any existential pregnancy. In an old anonymous Armenian miniature, it can be found a radical solution of the problem. The background is an elementary empty space. Both number and movement of the characters are reduced to essential. There are neither donkey, nor boat. Within a virtually mobile frame, the Madonna with Child and Joseph are just only walking through the page.
4 – Miniature of the Flight into Egypt, 13th century Armenian Gospel, Matenadaran, Yerevan An 11th century illuminated codex of the Dionysiou Monastery, on Mt. Athos, shows St. James the Less – Joseph’s son, and Jesus’ step brother? – leading the mount in a Byzantine golden background. Of course, most painters preferred more figurative solutions. Inspired by the Pseudo-Matthew, they gave birth to a new typology, by cutting out a minor space inside the wider one. That is a kind of stop of image, conventionally titled Rest on the Flight into Egypt. The most famous pertinent example is a work by Michelangelo Merisi, the Caravaggio (1595-1596; Doria Pamphilj Gallery, Rome). There, we are introduced into an oasis of serenity and peace. Seated on the grass, a young Mary sleeps with her head reclined over that of her sleeping bimbo. Meanwhile Joseph deals with the paradisiacal vision of a sensual, dark winged angel, who plays a violin. We cannot see his full face. But his music should be the same, which the aged man shows him, written on a score paper. If able to read music, we are admitted to make out that such a melody echoes the biblical Song of Songs. Even before than with a sacred atmosphere, nonetheless the feelings raised by the author seem related with a space devoted to art, either music or painting it be. In this sense, the masterpiece by the Italian painter looks close to the secret of an art, where 4
beauty works as an introduction to religious contents. If we wish to set the sequence of the Flight into Egypt in one order, relevant to its incidence in the history of art, we might affirm the space of the sacred opens inside the space of art, and this one – not seldom – opens inside the space of exile. An exile, which should mean going beyond the bounds of the self.
5 – The Caravaggio, Rest on the Flight into Egypt, Doria Pamphilj Gallery, Rome The title of a work by J. M. W. Turner on the Flight into Egypt, Dawn of Christianity (1841; Ulster Museum, Belfast), sounds allusive to a mystery like that. The scenery is exotic. From a pictorial viewpoint, this painting results so modern, as to anticipate the Impressionism. Yet let us take a look to contemporary art. The Flight into Egypt (2), by the Canadian living artist Michael D. O’Brien, develops in an original way the lesson of the Caravaggio. Actually, this is a “Rest during the Flight into Egypt”. The background is just a sketch, including a small moon and a silhouette of the ass. Nearly all the tableau surface, the whole foreground is occupied by a young Joseph sitting on the ground and playing a flute, beside Mary lying down and suckling Jesus. Unlike in the picture by the Caravaggio, she is wide awake and listening to music. What, to see well, is not a trifling difference. Another interesting peculiarity, the simulated visual angle is very close to that of the sucking baby. The detail of Our Lady feeding Jesus, and the intimate homely space that it reproduces, send us back to a masterpiece more of the past. That is the Rest from the Flight to Egypt, by a friend and follower of the Caravaggio, Orazio Gentileschi (circa 1628; Musée du Louvre, Paris; a less dramatic variant is at the Birmingham Art Gallery). As in the main tradition, here Joseph the carpenter has returned an elderly man, resting on an improvised bed. Like so many kids all over, the baby God is sucking at the breast of his mother. Mary’s eyes are closed, so that the general impression is of a great tiredness. The setting novelty of the scene is a semi-open crumbling room, where the Holy Family found a precarious shelter. Beyond a large window, threatening clouds remind the not idyllic circumstances of persecution and emigration. Only one eye gazes at us, out of the picture. That is Jesus’ eye. 5
6 – Michael O’Brien, Flight into Egypt (2), private collection Inside Wilderness and Darkness In central Italy from the 13th to the 15th century, with the Pisano family, Guido da Siena, Duccio di Buoninsegna, Giotto, Lorenzo Monaco, Sano di Pietro, the topic at issue encountered a remarkable pictorial or sculptural success. Rather than into a perspective depth, as for later landscapists, the space of the composition develops into a virtual or actual width, following the advancing trip by the Holy Family. More than the impression of a single static image, that gives the illusion of a mobile sequence, sliding on a various landscape. The acme of this process is achieved in the “Flight” by Gentile da Fabriano (1423; Uffizi Gallery, Florence). Really it is a wide picture, reliably wider than any other of the same genre. The journey appears interminable at once, growing through a fabulous atmosphere, surely influenced by the international Gothic style at the times of the author. No doubt, since the late antiquity the theme of the Flight into Egypt had assumed a peculiar edifying value, especially in an ascetic ambit. Above the painting Fuga in Egitto by Fra Angelico (1450; St. Mark’s Convent, Florence), we can read this verse from the Psalm 55: Elongavi fugiens et mansi in solitudine; “I have gone far off flying away, and I abode in the wilderness”. In one of his poems, the German mystic Johannes Scheffler, alias Angelus Silesius (1624-1677), will write: “If Herod is an enemy, Joseph is the reason./ God revealed him the danger in a dream, inside his soul./ If Bethlehem is the world, Egypt is solitude./ Flee away, my soul, or you will die of sorrow!” A concordance between Angelico’s painting and Silesius’ poetry is evident. Neither of them had a great opinion of this civilized world.
7 – Orazio Gentileschi, Rest from the Flight to Egypt, Musée du Louvre, Paris In the history of European art from Baroque to Romantic age, nevertheless such a space of wilderness, or sometimes of darkness, often is connoted in a negative sense. This is the case of an illustration of the Bible etched by Gustave Doré, where it is given a realistic view of the desert, or of La fuite en Égypte by James J. J. Tissot, a French artist who travelled to the Holy Land. In the same period, he painted Le séjour en Égypte, a beautiful scene with Mary and Child while drawing water from the Nile (1886-1894; Brooklyn Museum, New York). Particularly in La fuite en Égypte, the setting is a gloomy allegory of the evil on earth. But in the works by other authors the dark background can be also expounded in a mystic way, after a metaphoric use of the night made by St. John of the Cross in his celebrated poem En una noche obscura. Just there, might light up a truer light. In Landscape with the Rest on the Flight into Egypt, by Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn (1647; National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin), that light is realized and symbolized in a fire at the virtual centre of the nocturnal scene. It is burning innocuously on a woody riverbank, in the middle of the Holy Family. The whole scene is reflected in the water. A little Christ is watching curiously the fire, not far from a group of cows, while the moon strives to illuminate heavy clouds up in the sky. In background, an impending fortress can be hardly discerned, which detail we may find in other representations of this type. If the Flight to Egypt was one of the favourite subjects by Rembrandt, a night setting is recurrent, for example in his etchings and in a painting of 1627 at the Musée des Beaux Arts of Tours.
8 – Fra Angelico, Fuga in Egitto, St. Mark’s Convent, Florence Akin to the masterpiece by the Dutch master, and a possible model for him, it is Flucht nach Ägypten by the German painter Adam Elsheimer (1609; Alte Pinakothek, Munich). Here we have the same wooded bank, a similar game of spots of light and reflections into water. The main dimension is a starred vault, with a fully shining moon. Nor even is this cosmic view lacking precise astronomic notions. Instead, in the Flight into Egypt by the Danish artist Carl H. Bloch (1875; Hope Gallery and Museum of Fine Art, Salt Lake City), the only source of light is a lantern held by a shaded standing Joseph. It illuminates a resting Madonna, and the divine Child sleeping with his head on her breast. This latest night is deeper and darker than ever. What makes us rethink of a topical thoughtful comment to John of the Cross, in the treatise The Science of the Cross by Edith Stein, alias S.ta Teresa Benedicta a Cruce: “It is not an image insofar as one understands that to mean having a visible form. Night is invisible and formless. But still we perceive it, indeed it is nearer to us than all things and forms; it is more closely bound to our being. Just as light allows all things to step forward with their visible qualities, so night devours them and threatens to devour us also. Whatever sinks into it is not simply nothing; it continues to exist but as indeterminate, invisible, and formless as night itself, or shadowy, ghostlike, and therefore threatening… Whatever brings forth in us effects similar to those of the cosmic night is, in a figurative sense, called night” (trans. Steven Payn; Rome: Teresianum, 1998).
9 – James Tissot, La fuite en Égypte, Brooklyn Museum, New York Back toward a Higher Self Exile, emigration, deportation, are historical events, which have a sorrowful connection with our theme. Not seldom, by recognizing such conditions in the others – nay, in the Other –, we may become better aware of a common lot in this world. That is the transparent meaning in a controversial Fuga in Egitto of 1983, by Renato Guttuso at the Sanctuary of the Sacred Mount in Varese, Italy. Wearing traditional Palestinian robes, Joseph, Mary and an infant Jesus, proceed through the country on their ass. Several details denote their refugee condition. A white dove flying ahead may be a symbol of the Holy Ghost, as well as a wish of peace. Politically, the Italian artist was a “commy”. In his production, paradoxically there are some of the best works of religious contemporary art. Probably not by chance, in the U.S.A. modern art the topic in question was a favourite one by Afro-American painters. Also inspired by a journey to the Middle East, Henry O. Tanner (1859-1937) created fifteen artworks on the same subject. Some of them are bright and coloured, very impressive anyhow. Yet here we like to show up an undated picture, currently in the Smithsonian American Art Museum, at Washington. In fact, it falls within the category of an Escape to Egypt “in the dark”, of which above. The moonlight in an overcast sky allows to perceive nothing but the confused shapes of Mary, Joseph and the ass. It lets us wonder though, if there was any allusion to the uncertain, then advanced century. Awarded with an important prize in 1931, an expressionistic painting by James Lesesne Wells is similar in the composition. But it looks more optimistic, because of its shining daylight. Indeed, the contrast between the two scenes is not really a contradiction.
10 – Rembrandt, Landscape with the Rest on the Flight into Egypt, National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin The alternation of woe and hope was already in the scriptural account. So, in the Gospel of Matthew: “The angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying: ‘Arise, take the child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word, for Herod will seek the child to kill him’. When he arose, he took the child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt, and was there until the death of Herod” (2:13-15). How long did they stay there? Apocryphal texts answer, one or two years. Coptic traditions, a lapse of three and a half. Muslim sources, which share a Marian devotion, put it at seven years. Either wild or urban it might have been, Egypt had to be a hospitable milieu. Life must have been not easy anyhow. With the remarkable exception of J. Tissot, few artists strove to imagine their stay there. At last, they could return home. No wonder, iconography has recorded this event at least, usually as “The Return of the Holy Family from Egypt”. The oil with this title, by Jacob Jordaens (ca. 1616; Gemäldegalerie, Berlin), actually shows a joyful family, though walking with their bare feet. Mary’s clothes are somewhat frivolous, a broad brimmed hat included. Jesus has grown almost a boy. Joseph looks a bit older than at the time of the Flight into Egypt, which the same Flemish painter will depict approximately in 1640 (Pushkin Museum, Moscow). Instead of an ass, with them there is a pet, a nice little dog. About in the same period, we have like representations by the Italian Giovanni F. Romanelli, the Roman Giuseppe B. Chiari, the French Nicolas Poussin, the German Wolfgang Heimbach, the Dutch Karel Dujardin, by Rembrandt and – later – Tissot.
11 – Renato Guttuso, Fuga in Egitto, Sacro Monte, Varese Surely, precedents are not lacking. For example, on an altarpiece of the Cologne Cathedral, Germany (1360). The most remarkable is a Byzantine wall mosaic in the Church of the Chora at Istanbul (14th century). There, Mary and Joseph are walking. He carries Jesus, now a small boy, on his shoulders. After them, St. James leads a burdened donkey. This time, for certain the visible town to where their steps are bent is Nazareth. Yet, curiously, the subject will become in fashion all over western Europe in the 17th century. An already modern century, projected to the future. With no distinction of nationality and despite confessional divisions, an artistic collective unconscious was at work. Probably, a tale and an image as the “Return from Egypt” was then congenial to the new perspective. After all, in the European culture there had been a “Renaissance”. Better than others, artists could perceive that dialectic event as a further beginning even more than a return to the past. While writing this paper, I receive a gentle reply to a letter of mine sent to Michael O’Brien. Here, the artist comments a renowned Renaissance work, by Fra Angelico: “One of my most favorite paintings of all time, it is an interesting sequence: the donkey leads, then the baby carried by his mother, then St. Joseph walking behind. Almost every other painting of this scene has St. Joseph leading. Fra Angelico has given us the deeper theological meaning, on more than three levels I think. The parents look ahead with farseeing eyes, scanning the terrain and the future”. Not only from a theological angle, that is absolutely true. Generally, the Flight into Egypt stands between the past and the future, but oriented forward. What finally prevails is a light of hope, the dawn of a new era, a progressive feeling of history. In this sense, the return from Egypt is a “return to future”.
12 – Henry Ossawa Tanner, Flight into Egypt, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington An Old Sphinx and the New Saviour In the footsteps of the Holy Family, maybe we are at the point. The Flight into Egypt is a crossing the space as much as the time. It is an extension of the Advent. Yet, in the existential reflection, expressions like “overcoming the past for a more effective future” are as frequent as “overcoming the past without forgetting”. It does mean, remembrance is a good basis for any genuine progress, whereas a lack of memory or of attention may imply a risk of regression. In the biblical tradition, the desert is a cosmic frame for a wide reminiscence, and for an individuation of the self, which renders possible its transcendence. Elongavi fugiens et mansi in solitudine , we read in the above painting by Fra Angelico. But Egypt was not only a wild or an urban dimension. It was involved in the Hebraic history, and was the seat of an ancient wisdom, what Joseph and Mary could not be indifferent to. What a kind of relation or attitude had they, with all that? If the Gospel of Thomas testifies their good reception in that foreign country, other apocryphal sources as the Pseudo-Matthew and the Arabic Gospel of the Infancy report some contrast with its pagan culture and idolatrous religion. But early the idols themselves bowed, thus falling down, before the Son of God. In particular a pre-eminent idol spoke in a fabulous way, admitting its own falsity and paying homage to the divinity of the Christ. As it could be expected, the fall of idols became a detail in not a few old iconographic representations of the Flight into Egypt. Since the Middle Ages, another apocryphal miraculous story originated the frequent presence of palms in the iconography. That is historical instead, Egyptians will be one of the first peoples converted to the new faith, a conspicuous amount of years prior than Europe.
13 – Jacob Jordaens, Return of the Holy Family from Egypt, Gemäldegalerie, Berlin In modern painting, long before an orientalistic approach by artists as Tissot and Tanner, an ancient Egyptian setting began to emerge in the 17 th and 18th centuries, in some pictures by Poussin and Domenico Tiepolo. In the drawing Rest on the Flight into Egypt by Tiepolo (ca. 1770; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York), that is only the accessory element of a truncated pyramid. Yet in the homonymous oil by Poussin we have an entire Pharaonic scenery, including an obelisk in the background (1655-1657; Hermitage, St. Petersburg; cf. the same Roman imported detail in a later “Rest” by Francesco Mancini, Vatican Museums, Rome). Whereas in the former case there is a relation of mere contiguity with an architectural detail, in the latter the protagonists are comfortably introduced into the context of the archaeological reminiscences, even assisted by local anonymous characters. Anyway, what we might call an actual Egyptization of the scene occurred during the colonial age, with later archaeological discoveries and the diffusion of photography. A sign of such evolution are the images of the Giza Pyramids in the background of some British paintings, as The Virgin and Child in Egypt by William Blake (1810; Victoria and Albert Museum, London) or Flight into Egypt by Frederick Goodall, first exhibited in 1884. Anno Domini by Edwin L. Long, 1883, is a full reconstruction of an Egyptian life scene. The most surreal is Rest from the Flight into Egypt by the French painter Luc O. Merson. There are two variants of it, the former of 1879 at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, the latter undated in a private collection. In both pictures the Madonna with Child is sleeping by night, between the paws of a stone Sphinx, so that we might imagine an ancient goddess Isis with her son Horus. Not far on the sand, an awakening Joseph stares astonished at them, 13
illuminated by a supernatural light. Looking around for food, the ass alone does not mind.
14 – James Tissot, Le séjour en Égypte, Brooklyn Museum, New York Is that a dream by Mary, or a vision by Joseph? The author himself appears dubious about. In the pristine version, Joseph is depicted just only while resting. In any case, the impression is of a reconciliation with that remote civilization. Nor was the sacred history an exclusive Jewish matter any longer. Both in Coptic and in Arabic, we have the apocryphal History of Joseph the Carpenter. There, we can listen to an extraordinary voice from the past. Not so much cultural or collective, rather it is a literary, individual witness. But it confirms an importance of the Egyptian digression inside the evangelical narration, as a fulfilment of the divine prophecy “Out of Egypt I have called my son”. In a moving commemoration, he who humanly recalls and mourns is none but an adult Saviour. As to one Salome here mentioned, an apocryphal tradition specifies she was Jesus’ dry nurse: “[Herod] searched for me diligently, thinking that my kingdom was to be of this world. But Joseph, that pious old man, was warned of this by a dream. Therefore he rose and took Mary my mother, and I lay in her bosom. Salome also was their fellow traveller. Having set out from home, he retired into Egypt, and remained there the space of one year, until the hatred of Herod passed away. Now Herod died by the worst form of death. […] At length they carried Joseph out to a place where there was a cave, and opened the gate, that they might bury his body beside the bodies of his fathers. Then there came into my mind the day on which he walked with me into Egypt, and that extreme trouble which he endured on my account. Accordingly, I bewailed his death for a long time…” (chap. 8-9, 27).
15 – Nicolas Poussin, Repos pendant la fuite en Égypte, Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg According to Silesius above mentioned, the character of Joseph represents the reason. Which kind of reason, who deals with angels in dreams, who listens to a heavenly music or – maybe – is able to note down and replay it, in a full moon night? Evidently, not simply a provident, but a sensitive if not prophetic one. What is confirmed by a passage from the apocryphal Protoevangelium of James, chap. 18. There, an example of so called “cosmic suspension” coincides with the birth of Jesus. In the dating system, it will imply a zeroing of time, before its course can start again, with an inverted perception of the past. In the history of art, that will influence popular representations or landscapes, not only in the background of the Flight into Egypt scenes. Even if this might have been a coincidence, we dare to say, just then a concept of sacred landscape itself was born. Dropped out of time for an ecstatic while, an absolute space grows the space of the absolute. And no detail gets lost though: “I Joseph was walking, and was not walking. I looked up into the sky, and saw the sky astonished. I looked up to the pole of the heavens, and saw it standing, and the birds of the air keeping still. And I looked down upon the earth, and saw a trough lying, and workpeople reclining: and their hands were in the trough. And those that were eating did not eat, and those that were rising did not carry it up, and those that were conveying anything to their mouths did not convey it; but the faces of all were looking upwards. And I saw the sheep walking, and the sheep stood still; and the shepherd raised his hand to strike them, and his hand remained up. And I looked upon the current of the river, and I saw the mouths of the kids resting on the water and not drinking, and all things in a moment were driven from their course” (cf. codices Arundel 404, Hereford 0.3.9, Armenian Infancy Gospel).
16 – Luc Olivier Merson, Rest from the Flight into Egypt, private collection The Angel and the Iconoclasts Let us try to answer a supplementary question. How many did travel to and back from Egypt? According to apocryphal sources, influencing an early iconography, more than three. The Holy Family was not so much a nuclear one, such as in a today’s restrictive conception. However, either Salome or James the Less remain accessory characters. In not a few representations of the past, we can notice another virtual one. Also in the canonical version, he is “the angel of the Lord” who came twice into Joseph’s dreams to warn or to inform him. In the Rest on the Flight into Egypt by the Caravaggio, he is who plays a heavenly music. In the Flight into Egypt by Giambattista Tiepolo, he is who ferries the Holy Family across a river. In several popular pictures of the Latin America, he is an inseparable fellow traveller. Generally he represents a divine providence, assistance or consolation. Above all, he is who turns into sense the meaning of the story; perhaps, of history itself. That is, one of his tasks should be delivering our existences from what can be an idle vacuity. In contemporary iconography, such an invisible but essential character seems to have disappeared. Searching for any exception, we can find it in two watercolours by Natalia S. Goncharova, a Russian vanguard painter not seldom inspired by the iconic religious tradition. Currently in a private collection, the former is datable to 1909-1910. Especially in the latter, which better looks a Return from the Flight into Egypt (1915; Museum of Modern Art, S. Francisco), the presence of the Angel is imminent. He accompanies our couple with child, flying above them and opening the way toward a renewed life in their old homeland, with a gesture of his hands. What might work as a good wish too, about the conclusion of this survey, as well as for any indulgent reader.
17 – Natalia Goncharova, Flight into Egypt: 1915, Museum of Modern Art, S. Francisco Yet there is one story more, which shows some connexion with our subject, sounding worth being reported. It concerns the Netherlandish artist Pieter Aertsen, a religious painter. When the sacred figurative art began to be contested and destroyed by an extreme Protestant iconoclasm, he changed his residence town and converted his works into genre scene. Very strange ones, indeed, since a scrupulous spectator can discern small holy scenes dissimulated in the background. His Butcher’s Stall with the Flight into Egypt or A Meat Stall with the Holy Family Giving Alms, which we have in two copies (1551; Uppsala University Art Collection and North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh) is the most ever disconcerting “Flight into Egypt”. Rather than versus a certain religious confession, it looks the cryptic protest of an autonomous art, against whatever human foolishness and violence. What, when adopted by Aertsen, might appear an expedient, became a full invention in the works of his nephew Joachim Beuckelaer. He depicted two “Flights into Egypt”. Now in the Rockox House at Antwerp, the former is more traditional. In the latter, titled The Four Element: Earth. A Fruit and Vegetable Market with the Flight into Egypt in the Background (1560; National Gallery, London), the author develops his uncle’s lesson into a not less striking allegory. In the composition, we have three levels: a still life, in the foreground; some figures of peasant women and men, in the middle; a country landscape, with the detail of the Holy Family on a bridge across a stream, in the rear on the left. Despite all, between nature and humankind the sacred mystery survived as a subdued link. That is an anomalous example, of what is conventionally called “inverted perspective”. If 17
we consider it well, not a few things on earth do not happen otherwise...
18 – Joachim Beuckelaer, The Four Elements: Earth, National Gallery, London Copyright email@example.com 2008 Articles by the same author on similar subjects, at the Websites below: http://www.scribd.com/doc/2531940/Space-and-Time-of-the-Annunciation; http://www.scribd.com/doc/2681466/The-Cat-and-the-Angel-of-the-Annunciation; http://www.scribd.com/doc/2913375/The-Hands-of-Mary-States-of-Mind-in-theAnnunciate; http://www.scribd.com/doc/2988387/Hail-Mary-Nazarene-and-PreRaphaeliteAnnunciations; http://www.scribd.com/doc/3817130/Women-and-Angels-Female-Annunciations; http://www.scribd.com/doc/4597267/Byzantine-Annunciations-An-Iconography-ofIconography; http://www.scribd.com/doc/5837944/Marian-Icons-in-Rome-and-Italy.
This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
We've moved you to where you read on your other device.
Get the full title to continue listening from where you left off, or restart the preview.