Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Dream of St Joseph

Title: The Dream of St Joseph
Artist: Rembrandt Harmenszoon Van Rijn
Medium: Oil on canvas
Size: 105 x 83 cm
Date: 1655
Location: Museum Of Fine Arts, Budapest, Hungary.

Matthew 2:13: When the Wise Men had left, Joseph had a dream. In the dream an angel of the Lord appeared to him. "Get up!" the angel said. "Take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you to come back. Herod is going to search for the child. He wants to kill him."

Jesus' miraculous escape here should not lead us to overlook the nature of his deliverance (compare, for example, 1 Kings 17:2-6). Jesus and his family survived, but they survived as refugees, abandoning any livelihood Joseph may have had at home as they were undoubtedly traveling lightly. Although travel within Egypt was may have been easy for visitors with means, many Judeans had traditionally regarded refuge in Egypt as a last resort.

Figures or scenes from the New Testament are relatively rare in the works of seventeenth-century Dutch painters. For Rembrandt, however, the Bible was an inexhaustible source of inspiration, providing with him innumerable examples of human joys and sorrows. The Holy family is shown resting in a dim stable; Mary is protected from the cold by a large shawl which she has also folded round the Infant on her lap so that only his tiny face is visible. Joseph, depicted as a clumsy Dutch peasant, is seen awakening from the sleep of exhaustion, dazed by a brilliant apparition which puts a hand on his shoulder as a sign of heavenly comfort, support and encouragement for the weak. The angel is the source of the warm golden light suffusing the whole group.

Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn (July, 1606 – October, 1669) was a Dutch painter and etcher. He is generally considered one of the greatest painters and printmakers in European art history, his work contributing to a period that historians call the Dutch Golden Age. In contrast to his successful public career, however, Rembrandt's family life was marked by misfortune. His wife, Saskia, gave birth to four children, but only the last, Titus, survived; her own death came in 1642 at the age of 30. And despite Rembrandt's financial success as an artist, teacher, and art dealer, his penchant for ostentatious living forced him to declare bankruptcy in 1656.

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