Bible moralisée of Naples

Bible moralisée of Naples f. 140v: The Flight into Egypt (Matt. 2: 14)

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f. 140v: The Flight into Egypt (Matt. 2: 14)

“This is the story: How Joseph took Our Lord Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary and they fled into Egypt as instructed by the angel. Thus says Saint Matthew in his Gospel in the second chapter.”

The flight as such is, in fact, depicted here at the beginning of a new quire of 4 parchment folios (or binion, ff. 140-143). This miniature depicts the text that tells how “Joseph arose, took the Child and His mother by night and left for Egypt”. The biblical paraphrase fails to specify that the scene took place by night, an important detail, possibly to save painter A from the predicament of having to portray a night scene: an impossible mission because of the gold ground. The portrayal of the figures in this naive composition is not very masterful (to a modern beholder, the donkey seems to walk on Joseph’s feet) but as we know, pictorial realism is not the main aim, as demonstrated by the artificial backdrop of the citadel surrounded by ramparts in the background, the intention being to suggest a haven where the Holy Family can hide from Herod’s murderous madness. Mary sits sidesaddle on the donkey clasping baby Jesus to her breast. He is depicted in swaddling clothes and crowned with a cruciform nimbus whose outline is invisible for the artist seems to have forgotten to draw the circle of his halo on the gold leaf as he did for the other characters. In the background Joseph walks with a bundle on his shoulder, resting his hand on the hindquarters of the donkey. The angel garbed in a flame-colour robe holding its bridle leads it towards the place of refuge. The small party goes past high cliffs that evoke foreign lands and the dangers of travelling but the heavenly messenger stretches his arm out towards the city on the horizon.

Yves Christe
University of Geneva
Marianne Besseyre
Illuminated Manuscripts Research Center, Bibliothèque nationale de France
Fragment of the Bible moralisée of Naples commentary volume


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