Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Martyrdom of the Holy Innocents

Title: The Martyrdom of the Holy Innocents

Artist: Gustave Doré

Medium: Ink and gouache on paper

Size: 56.5 x 84 cm

Date: c.1868

Location: Private collection.

Matthew 2:16-18 records that when Herod realized that the Magi left and had not reported back to him as requested, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled: "A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.”

The murder of the children of Bethlehem thus fits what is historically know of Herod's character (he was well know to ruthlessly have his own sons murdered); yet it is not surprising that other early writers do not mention this particular atrocity. Herod's reign was an era of many highly placed political assassinations, and our accounts come from well-to-do reporters focused on the royal house and national events. In such circles the execution of perhaps twenty children in a small town would warrant little attention - except from God.

Matthew does not simply report this act of injustice dispassionately; he chooses an ancient lament from one of the most sorrowful times of his people's history. Jeremiah 31:15 speaks of Rachel weeping for her children, poetically describing the favored mother of Benjamin (standing for all Judah) mourning because her descendants were led into exile. Rachel, who wept from her grave in Bethlehem during the captivity, was now weeping at another, nearer crisis significant in salvation history.

Paul Gustave Doré (January 6, 1832 – January 23, 1883) French artist, the son of a civil engineer, was born at Strassburg. In 1848 he came to Paris and secured a three years engagement on the Journal pour rire. His facility as a draughtsman was extraordinary, and among the books he illustrated in rapid succession were Balzac's Contes drolatiques (1855), Dante's "Inferno" (1861), Don Quixote (1863), The Bible (1866), Paradise Lost (1866), and the works of Rabelais (1873). He painted also many large and ambitious compositions of religious or historical character, and made some success as a sculptor, his statue of Alexandre Dumas in Paris being perhaps his best-known work in this line.

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