Art in focus – December 2022 / January 2023
Rest on the Flight into Egypt
(c. 1597) Oil on canvas
Caravaggio, born Michelangelo
Merisi da Caravaggio (Milan)
In a dark landscape typical of Caravaggio, four faces are illuminated. Joseph gazes at a young angel and Mary’s head is drawn close to the baby cradled in her lap. It is a moment of rest. Joseph and Mary have just come through the traumatic experiences of travelling from their home to a crowded Bethlehem, giving birth to a baby in exceptional circumstances, and finally fleeing for their lives on the realisation that the King himself will stop at nothing to find the baby and destroy him. According to medieval legend, Joseph and Mary paused in their flight in a grove of trees. There the holy child ordered the trees to bend down so that Joseph could take fruit from them, and then ordered a spring of water to gush from the roots so that they could quench their thirst. Caravaggio adds his own story. He knows what exile is like, having been forced to run from Rome after the possible murder of someone in a street fight. In his painting the landscape is dark, the road is rocky and the travellers barefoot. But suddenly an angel joins them bringing the gift of music. The viewer can see from the detailed sheet held by Joseph that it is a motet by Flemish composer Noel Bauldeweyn taken from the Song of Songs and dedicated to Mary – ‘How beautiful you are’. It is a simple moment of refreshment and rest for the vulnerable family who bear with them the hope of the world.
Art in focus is curated by Meryl Doney
This article was published in the December 2022 / January 2023 edition of Reform