The Flight into Egypt
Domenico Fiasella, called Il Sarzana
Below the image, click play to listen.
M&G makes loans throughout the year to participating museums. However, the Museo Diocesano of Sarzana, Italy has requested M&G to “loan” our painting digitally as part of their exhibition focused on an artist from their town, Domenico Fiasella, called Il Sarzana. The exhibit runs from July 15-October 31, 2021.
The Sarzana museum isn’t able to borrow internationally for this exhibition. Instead, their exhibition digitally features works by the artist from other prominent collections including the Louvre and The Ringling. They requested that the participating museums create and send videos for inclusion in their on-site exhibition and social media. View M&G’s video below to learn more about our painting and the artist.
Oil on panel
Monogrammed and dated: JB (top middle column) 1565 (top left column)
Joachim Bueckelaer received his training in Antwerp from his uncle, Pieter Aertsen, who originated a type of genre painting with peasants or biblical characters set amidst a kitchen or market scene. As an innovator in a new approach to narrative painting, Aertsen enjoyed considerable success with patrons, though not a large following from other artists. Bueckelaer emulated Aertsen’s style closely when he became an independent master in 1560 and remained inspired by his teacher-uncle’s style for the rest of his career.
The painting came to the collection in 1963, three years after it was purchased at a Sotheby’s auction by dealer Julius Weitzner. Weitzner relates in a letter to Dr. Bob Jones Jr. (founder of the Museum & Gallery at Bob Jones University that the under-bidder for the sale was Phillip Pouncy (then Deputy Keeper of the Drawings Department at the British Museum) on behalf of Dr. Julius Held—representative for the Ferre Foundation and assembling works for the new Museo de Arte de Ponce in Puerto Rico.
Dr. Held later wrote to Dr. Jones about the painting saying, “Congratulations on the acquisition of the Bueckelaer; I know the picture very well and have always liked it very much. You did well to buy it.” Dr. Alfred Stange also commented that “The Holy Family by Bueckelaer is an outstanding picture; and signed and dated pictures by this master are, besides that, extremely rare.” Thieme-Becker listed the painting first among the artist’s most important works. The same year it was acquired by the museum it traveled to the Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique in Brussels for the important Le Siècle de Bruegel: La peinture en Belgique au XVIe siecle exhibit.
In the present work, the artist places the biblical scene front and center, forming a pleasing figural arrangement with limbs at active diagonals and a triangular focal point between the three main character’s faces. The large-scale figures of Joseph and Mary fill the immediate foreground, giving a monumentality and nobility to the peasant-looking characters. Bueckelaer’s other market scenes with biblical narratives often had a moralizing purpose, contrasting secular and spiritual values and/or illustrating the frivolity of pleasing the flesh. Here the spiritual tone is elevated throughout the scene, and the beautiful basket of fruits underscores the satisfaction and blessing that can be found only in Christ, the focus of the narrative.
Though Bueckelaer’s work influenced Northern Italians such as Bartolomeo Passarotti and Annibale Carracci, he had no close successors in the Netherlands. Nonetheless, his lifelong commitment to still life and genre painting proved an important on-going presence in Antwerp. Seventeenth-century painters such as Frans Snyders illustrate his continued influence into the Baroque era. His small, respectable output of about forty extant paintings and few followers can be explained perhaps by his early death at age forty.
Published in 2013
Oil on canvas
All museums have at least one or two works that visitors love to see again and again. First-time visitors often comment on their preferences after a tour through the galleries, and regular patrons tell us that they enjoy returning to see their favorite works. M&G’s Holy Family in the Carpenter Shop by Gerrit van Honthorst is one such crowd pleaser.
Honthorst’s mastery of lighting effects was inspired by the works of Caravaggio during a sojourn to Italy around 1612 or 1620. Even though Caravaggio only produced two known night paintings which depict artificial lighting such as a candle or a torch, Honthorst and a group of other Dutch artists from Utrecht followed this genre’s techniques and became known as the “Candlelight Painters.” In fact, the Italians gave Gerrit van Honthorst the nickname, Gherardo delle Notti, meaning “Gerard of the Night Scenes.”
For the viewer the primary, gripping element is the effect of light in the painting. Mary, Joseph, and Christ are gathered in a plain, dark room with a soft, warm light illuminating their forms from out of the darkness. Honthorst’s proficiency and sensitivity are noted in his ability first to concentrate the most intense light on the arms of Christ and Joseph and then subtly diffuse the beam as it stretches away from the light source. The emotional effect of the soft lighting is heightened by the characters’ gentle, loving facial expressions as well as the simple, natural portrayal of their manner. Christ holds the oil lamp while Mary carefully steadies His hand in order to position the flame for Joseph to see his work and to prevent Jesus from burning Himself.
In this favored work of M&G patrons, the meaning evoked by the light is as equally compelling as the painterly technique. Although Christ is but a child in the scene, the lamp which He grasps metaphorically alludes to the declaration of an adult Christ, “I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (John 8:12). Scripture further describes Christ in these words: “In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not” (John 1:4-5). Perhaps another layer of Biblical significance is present in the work; as the youth eagerly looks to His father to please him and help him, the act faintly implies not only a family value or work ethic of Honthorst’s time, but also a Biblical injunction to children to obey and honor their parents (Ephesians 6:1, 2).
In order to fully appreciate the impression and effect of this remarkable work, come and view the painting for yourself. You will surely come to understand why this painting has become the favorite of so many.
Published in 2013