(b. 1571, Caravaggio, d. 1610, Porto Ercole)

Rest on Flight to Egypt (detail)

Oil on canvas, width of detail 48 cm
Galleria Doria Pamphilj, Rome

The composition fans out from an exquisite angel who is playing music. Joseph is wearing clothes of earth-color and is holding a book of music, from which the angel is playing a violin solo, whilst the donkey's large eyes peeps out from under the brown foliage.

The Angel is playing a motet in honour of the Madonna, Quam pulchra es..., composed by Noël Bauldewijn to the words of the Song of Songs (7,7) with the dialogue between Groom and Bride (understood in the painting not so much as Joseph and Mary, but as Jesus Christ and the Madonna, i.e. the church): "How fair and pleasant art thou, O love, for delights! This thy stature is like to a palm tree, and thy breasts to clusters of grapes." In the Gospel according to the pseudo-Matthew (20,1), significantly dedicated to the Flight into Egypt, the same metaphorical image of the palm tree laden with fruit returns.

The principal motif of Caravaggio's Flight into Egypt is that of the music that can be heard on earth, considered by the Fathers of the Church to be a copy of music in heaven. The intermediary between these two worlds is the invisible sound, which in art takes the form of an Angel playing music, a divine messenger that stands at the border between material and spiritual reality. God communicates with men through Angels, who are his go-betweens: "[it is the] Angel who spoke to me," says Zachariah and for Ezekiel, the Angel is "the man dressed in linen," just as Caravaggio depicts him.

Suggested listening (streaming mp3, 3 minutes):
Noël Bauldeweyn: Quam pulchra es, motetta