The Rest on the Flight into Egypt by Vincenzo Catena

Art is one of the forms of portraying the most intimate and divine thoughts of the artist without having to actually speaking with him, yet discovering the deepest depth of the beauty he carries inside of him. In his paintings the artist Vincenzo Catena displays the holiness of his soul by taking us into magnificent journey through the Italian landscapes together with the Saints often portrayed in his paintings. The painting The Rest on the Flight into Egypt (c. 1510) defeats the viewer with its divine serenity and tranquility, and prepares us to hover over the theme that the characters tell the viewer. Putting most of the effort in the strokes of the brush, Vincenzo Catena illuminates the limitedness and infinity of the calmness and purity of innocence by bringing peace and satisfaction through the overall look of the image.

This paper discusses the manner in which Vincenzo Catena has successfully transmitted the atmosphere of serenity through the painting The Rest on the Flight into Egypt. The paper analyzes the image through four main aspects. First, in context of geographic location, the painting is overlooked to discuss the descriptive analysis. Second, the visual analysis is provided focusing on the main formal elements of the image. Third, in the context of historical aspect the meaning of the painting is valued. Fourth, interpretation of the painting is provided. At last, the value of The Rest on the Flight into Egypt is summarized as the valuable art presentation.

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First, the oil on the panel painting The Rest on the Flight into Egypt by Vincenzo Catena is being displayed at Norton Simon Museum. It portrays the Holy Family in the fields of Veneto of North-Eastern Italy, where the artist was born (Norton Simon Museum, 2013). Vincenzo Catena (c. 1470-1531) is an artist of Italian origin from the Renaissance Venetian School, who painted in the style of Bellini and Cima (The National Gallery, Trafalgar Square, 2013). According to the professionals from The National Gallery of London, Catena’s style is attributed in most to Giorgione, whom he influenced vastly and he was a partner with. The writers explain, “Catena's work is less lyrical than Giorgione's but has a solidity and charm of its own” (The National Gallery, Trafalgar Square. 2013).

This painting presents heavenly tranquility both in the landscape and faces of the characters. Joseph is sinking into deep thoughts holding his head in a dreamy way, while “Madonna and Child provide the sole element of psychological interaction as they sit in mutual awareness” (Norton Simon Museum, 2013). Even wild birds transmit complete quietness of the moment, as they mind their business right near the Holy Family. The landscape is equally important to the completeness of the picture, being on the focal points, underlined by the light and lightness of the strokes. The landscape, wildlife and the Holy Family together represent a complete balance with the nature and spirit in a mindful wonderment.

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Second, the visual analysis of the painting leads us to the following conclusions. First, being a mixed type of the portrait in the landscape, the horizontal and vertical lines are balanced equally. The diagonals are followed in the portrait of Madonna and landscape, respectively in the Fibonacci spiral and get into the focal points. Evaluating the light in the image, we can contemplate soft and non-striking morning light that soothingly caresses skin of the gazing child, as well as the dreamy faces of Joseph and Madonna. The painter also uses light to underline beauty of Italian nature and softness of the moment in the puffy clouds and farthest, yet not Cold Mountain picks also caressed by the morning sunlight. The painter uses light to emphasize emotions, the focal points and to transfer the texture of fabric, which is perfectly stocked. The colors harmoniously work together with no striking bright emphasizes. The artist mainly uses pastel tints to avoid being too sharp, or to meddle with the viewer. The main color palette is gradation from cold blue to light pink, and from cold green to warm yellow. The only exception is the dress of Madonna, which is being made red for the purpose of attracting attention of the viewer as the focal point to emphasize her importance on this picture, as she holds the child. She becomes the first object our vision is attracted to, and then it begins wondering around other elements of the painting in spiral pattern clockwise. The texture of the painting is subdued to the idea of smooth harmony and soft outlines. Not even the trees, which are darker than the rest of the composition, are rogue or hard. The lines are soft, smooth and, in some cases, thin to focus on the beauty of the nature. The overall image is very voluminous. The artist uses lights and shadows to extract the volume in the painting. First, he uses lights to augment the volume on the focal points and facial patterns of the characters. Also, Catena uses shadows and highlights to portray the texture and volume of the fabric in the exquisite garments. In addition, this is as if we almost feel soft silk of Madonna’s dress, or the drapery on Joseph. The volume is also very well felt in the infinity of landscape. The trees are extremely bushy and the clouds are softly gliding through the sky, leaving behind the fields of innocence with their pure waters and green divinity. The shadows on the painting are also as soft as the morning light can be. Such shadows contribute to the overall lightness of being in the painting.

Third, the historical context of this painting is rather multidimensional. In the 1500, the topic of Holy Family fleeing into Egypt had been taken by many painters and was quite popular for painting at that time. Many painters had actually been trying to implement this topic through their points of view. The story is actually taken from one of the stories told in the Bible. The painting is the description of the early Middle Ages’ story told in Matthew 2:13-22. According to the Bible, the Holy family was escaping to Egypt to seek shelter, when Herod the Great had given the order to find the Christ Child and kill him, as he felt threatened by him. The painting portrays the staying of Joseph and Mary in the calmness of the trees, when the Holy Child had ordered the nature to work in a divine balance so they can be fed, nurtured and have rest from their fleeing in a moment free from all their problems (Bible, Matthew 2:13-22).

Fourth, the meaning of the painting is obvious, yet so deeply hidden at the same time. A few themes are disclosed in the painting. Discussing the focal points from the most obvious to the least, the message transmitted by the artist through the painting is explained. On the first plan we see the Holy family: Joseph, Madonna and the Holy Child. They look serene and calm; nothing sends any feeling of worry. Knowing the background context of the story, we can only guess that Joseph is thinking about how they are going to get to Egypt and would God grant them good life and protection. It is obvious that Mary and the Holy Child have very close connection to each other, when the Child obviously asserts the mother to stop worrying, and, looking up to the Heavenly Father, keeps peace in this momentum, and ensures Mary that he will guarantee it in the future, if only they have faith. In the background the landscape is also painted in a very tender and gentle manner. It includes all landscape elements, such as fields, hills, mountains, desert, forestation, water and their inhabitants that mainly emphasize the infinity and beauty of the nature and its connection to people. It also shows the abundance of natural resources granted by God. The painting is completed in the glorious harmony of the natural and supernatural.

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To conclude, this paper has examined the painting by Vincenzo Catena the Rest on the Flight into Egypt (c. 1510) from four different perspectives. First, the basic characteristics and location of this work of art in the museum were already discussed. Second, the visual analysis has concluded that the overall impression of the tenderness of the painting was to bring peace and emphasize serenity. The painting is almost perfect in its composition, using a lot of soft light to emphasize the focal points, the volume and texture of the painting. Third, the historical background of the painting was disclosed. Fourth, the depth of meaning that the painting transfers was interpreted. After all, The Rest on the Flight into Egypt by Vincenzo Catena is a painting that amazes the viewer with its tenderness and serenity, yet depth of thought and meaning on the background of amazing picturesque natural landscape that completes the theme of the painting.

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