The final entry in my series of reflections based on ten of the greatest Christmas artworks of all time.
Merry Christmas to you all!
10 THE FLIGHT TO EGYPT
Artwork: Rest on the Flight to Egypt – Orazio Gentileschi, Birmingham Art Gallery
Reading: Matthew 2:13-23
This isn’t a very well known Christmas painting, but I really like it.
During their escape from the murderous King Herod, the holy family rests in what looks like a derelict building. Their donkey waits on the other side of a broken wall as Joseph takes a nap and Mary feeds her child. There are dark, foreboding clouds on the horizon.
The setting reinforces the appalling situation they find themselves in. Destitute, alone, and taking brief shelter in a ruin.
Orazio Gentileschi’s picture is a strange composition. But it beautifully portrays the utter exhaustion of the holy family’s hurried escape from Bethlehem. They look like a modern day refugee family fleeing Aleppo.
Joseph has collapsed in sheer exhaustion.
Mary’s feet are dirty and she appears too tired to even cradle her hungry child, who looks furtively in our direction.
Gentileschi obviously related to the refugee status of the holy family. He painted five versions of this picture. As a young painter he had become caught up in the licentious and violent world of fellow painter Caravaggio, who not only influenced his work, but led him into scandal. Gentileschi was sued, imprisoned, and disgraced. But the last straw was when one of Caravaggio’s circle of painter friends raped Gentileschi’s daughter, Artemisia.
Gentileschi fled to England where he relaunched his career, including painting this picture.
I can’t help but see his own world-weariness depicted in it.
It reminds us that Jesus was indeed a refugee, an important truth when we consider that we are living in a time with the highest levels of human displacement on record.
An unprecedented 65.3 million people around the world have been forced from their homeland. Among them are nearly 21.3 million refugees, over half of whom are under the age of 18.
There are also 10 million stateless people who have been denied a nationality and access to basic rights such as education, healthcare, employment and freedom of movement.
Jesus’ own displacement results in the fulfillment of prophecy, whereby the Messiah would be born in David’s city but also come out of Egypt.
But it also reminds us the church must be on the side of the poor, because God himself had chosen to side with the poor and defenseless. Indeed God became one of them! Since it is clear that God had always favored the poor, it should also be clear that commitment to their relief and welfare should be our priority as well.
Our Father in heaven,
Reveal who you are.
Set the world right;
Do what’s best— as above, so below.
Keep us alive with three square meals.
Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others.
Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil.
You’re in charge!
You can do anything you want!
You’re ablaze in beauty!
Yes. Yes. Yes.
Matt. 6:9-13 (The Message)