Artist: Léon Cogniet
Medium: Oil on fabric
Size: 265 X 235 cm
Location: Musée des Beaux-Arts, Rennes.
Matthew 2:16-18: 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.”
Matthew does not simply report the murder of the children of Bethlehem 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.
Where medieval and renaissance painters showed mayhem and murder, Cogniet shows only fear. He favored a fragmented, anecdotal take on this event rather than a broad descriptive composition. This Scene of the massacre of the innocent is without any doubt the masterpiece of Leon Cogniet. The work is made up in two plans: with the first this mother and her child, a mass painful rebalanced by the wall in ruins advancing in front of the composition. In the second plan, the massacre animated in a severe light erases the shapes of the characters. The woman with the dilated and dark eyes, offers the synthesis of an ideal beauty and a commonplace realism. Cogniet treated the foreground in a harmony of colors gray, beige, black, and blues.
Léon Cogniet (August 1794 –November 1880) was a French historical and portrait painter. he entered the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, where he studied under Pierre-Narcisse Guérin at the same time as Delacroix and Géricault. In 1817 he won the Prix de Rome and was a resident at the Villa Medici from 1817 to 1822.