The Flight into Egypt

7:00 AM

Elsheimer, The Flight into Egypt, 1609
And following its path, we took no care
To rest, but climbed: he first, then I--so far,
Through a round aperture I saw appear
Some of the beautiful things that Heaven bears,
Where we came forth, and once more saw the stars. 
- Inferno, Dante, Canto XXXIV, 136-40

Adam Elsheimer, a German artist, created his famous The Flight into Egypt in 1609 in Rome. The painting pictures the Holy family makes its way through a dim landscape below an expanse of starry sky. The moon, the torch held by Joseph, and the campfire provide the three main sources of light. The river bank and the outline of heavily dense trees form a diagonal across the picture. It echoes with the milky river, a symbol often believed to be the path to Heaven. The Holy family walks towards the left to where the campfire  is located and to where the milky river leads upwards, implying to the audience that a shelter and a auspicious future await them.

Just like the King Herod is after the Holy family, the horrible demonstration of Hell scares Dante away. Coincidently, the starry sky is always in the background. In addition, Dante's Purgatorio and his Paradiso, like the Inferno, end with the word stars.

I frequently pictured Dante in my head as the screaming man painted by Edvard Munch. I try to think what his face looks like when he finally gets out of the bloody Hell. I was expecting Dante would spend another Canto to depict the gorgeous landscape above the ground, and his ecstatic mood towards the ravishing view of man's world. But he did not. No more views are mentioned but the stars, and no more words are said but, "the beautiful things that Heaven bears." Short, but powerful. After witnessing scores of horrendous tortures in Hell,  Dante says that above the starry sky, Heaven never abandons you; and only can the mighty God create such a view of silence, peace and solemnity.

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