Well, the first week of the advent blog is drawing to a close, so I thought I’d end it by sauntering over to the New Testament for today’s image. Adam Elsheimer’s painting is an eye-catching depiction of the ‘flight to Egypt’ narrative found in Matthew 2, where Joseph and Mary, with the infant Jesus, flee from Israel to evade King Herod’s murderous intentions. In Elsheimer’s vision of this story, the family are making their weary way in the foreground, illuminated only by the light from Joseph’s torch. Just around the corner, a group appear to be settling down for the night, their campfire offering a reassuring glow in the darkening night.
The real star (no pun intended) of this painting, however, is the glorious night sky, which draws our eyes upward, away from the figures below. With painstaking attention to detail, Elsheimer delights us with a heavenly blue expanse, sprinkled with twinkling stars and the cloudy smudge of the Milky Way. If you study it closely you can make out actual constellations that may have been visible to him when he was painting this – I think I can see part of Ursa Major (the Big Dipper) and Orion (yes, I’m a bit of an amateur stargazer)…can you spot any others?
My favourite character in this painting though has to be the pearlescent moon, which glows so brightly near the horizon, illuminating the night sky and doubling its magnificence through its reflection in the still water below. Stare at this picture long enough and you start to feel as though you are there too, hearing the rustling movements of tired travellers, smelling the woodsmoke from the fire. A vignette of peace and rest in what is, otherwise, a desperately sad story of exile, violence, and fear.
Tomorrow, I’m going to enjoy a day of rest, so my colleague Dr Stephen Garner will be delighting you with an advent contribution of his own. Don’t miss it, and I’ll be back with more visual advent deliciousness on Monday.
Adam Elsheimer, The Rest on the Flight into Egypt (1602)