Attention Deficit Disorder Prosthetic Memory Program

Rest on the Flight into Egypt :

Luc-Olivier Merson, 1879.

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Rest on the Flight into Egypt - © Attention Deficit Disorder Prosthetic Memory Program

An 1879 artwork by French painter Luc-Olivier Merson’s, depicting a classic scene from the gospel of Matthew, in which an angel appears to Joseph in a dream to warn him that Herod is seeking to kill the Christ child. Upon waking, Joseph took Mary and Jesus and fled to Egypt, where the family was safe. Although the rest on this journey is not specifically mentioned in the bible, it became a part of recognized Christian iconography by the fourteenth century, and, over the years, it has provided the framework for pieces of art by Lucas Cranach the Elder (1504), Titian (c. 1512), Caravaggio (c. 1597), Anthony van Dyck (1630) or Pier Francesco Mola (c. 1640), among others.

Merson’s version of this subject portrays the Holy Family silhouetted against a star-strewn desert sky. Joseph sleeps on the sand, wrapped in his cloak while Mary sits with the Christ Child, glowing with the golden light of a halo, between the massive paws of the sphinx of Giza. Above them, the sphinx gazes up at the stars with the famous “archaic smile” — a common feature of ancient art. Although the artist never visited Africa, it is likely that he was inspired by contemporary academic reports and descriptions about the archeological sites of ancient Egypt, as well as by accounts by modern travelers.

Rest on the Flight into Egypt is 71.8 cm (28.2 in) height and 128.3 cm (50.5 in) width. It is now part of the permanent collections of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, USA.

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