Advent offering – 15 December

As we move into the third week of the advent period, I’m returning to another Genesis narrative for today’s image – the story of Noah’s ark and the flood in Genesis 6-9. This painting by Jan Brueghel the Elder [remember the gorgeous image of Eden painted by his son earlier in this advent season?] shows us Noah and his family making their way towards the newly built ark, looking as though they are going on a day trip in their fancy 16th Century garb. In the background, a crowd is gathering to watch them, wondering, perhaps, what is going on. Meanwhile, the animals are congregating – some are already paired up, ready to make their way up the gangway, while others seem to still be searching for their boarding partner. As with Jan Brueghel the Younger’s painting of Eden, this is a glorious image – I’ve spent ages staring at it, trying to recognise the dizzying number of different creatures and species presented there. Is that a pukeko (or its Northern hemisphere lookalike, the moorhen) in the foreground? And what’s the tiny bird perched on the ostrich’s back? From elephants to mice, peacocks to bats, it’s a gorgeous array to behold.

My favourite detail, though, is in the centre left of the picture – two unicorns dancing their way towards the ark. According to legend, the reason that unicorns no longer exist is that they were simply too slow getting on the ark and, as the rain started to fall heavier and heavier, Noah had no choice but to close the doors of the ark and leave without them.

As I write this, thunder is rolling in the distance, west of the city and clouds are mounting up in an otherwise sunny blue sky. The met service has issued a severe thunderstorm warning with the chance of flash floods later in the afternoon. So, my anxiety is mounting for these poor unicorn in the picture – I just wish they’d hurry up and make their way a little faster towards that open ark door.

Jan Brueghel the Elder, Loading of the Animals (1596)

5 thoughts on “Advent offering – 15 December

  1. Nick Thompson December 15, 2013 / 4:16 pm

    The pukeko is fascinating. The NZ one isn’t a native; apparently it exported itself from Australia in recent centuries, along with the Waxeye / Silvereye.

    But, while I’ve seen similar ratites in Europe, I’ve never seen one that was blue like the one in this picture.


  2. Anne Priestley December 15, 2013 / 5:55 pm

    Moorhens are much smaller than pukeko, and not so wonderfully coloured. From my long ago days of classical Greek, however, I remember a bird which in translation rejoiced in the name of the purple gallinule, and I believe it is more or less the same as a pukeko. Could this be it?


    • Caroline Blyth December 16, 2013 / 9:00 am

      It certainly could be, Anne. A gorgeous bird,with lovely blue-green feathers and that distinctive red beak. I was actually wondering where Brueghel found images of the more exotic creatures in his painting – I’m guessing he wouldn’t have been able to see them all in person (no zoos in the 16th Century?) so relied perhaps on others’ paintings and sketches.


      • cedar51 December 16, 2013 / 3:39 pm

        I would agree, the colour plates that artists who accompanied the explorers would have been available. Or there may have been zoos with exotic animals that now now exist…it is a very detailed painting and amount of birds is astonishing…


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