Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Massacre of the Innocents

Berlinghiero da Lucca  (fl. 1228 – before 1236)
The Massacre of the Innocents
Fresco on wooden support
350 x 205 cm 
Basilica di Santo Stefano, Bologna

After the delight of the Epiphany came the tragedy of The Massacre of the Innocents

But for some reason we commemorate the event on December 28th and not after the Epiphany

The account is in Matthew 2: 16 -18

Some critics have doubted the truth of the event. However the arguments in favour of it having happened are very strong

King Herod the Great  had already murdered his wife, his own sons and countless others.  

A number of males under two years old in a population of 1000 (about 20) would not have caused him any loss of sleep

Herod of course is the king depicted on the right hand side of the painting. He is sitting on his throne giving instructions to his soldier-executioner who is standing amongst a number of bloody corpses

The sight of the children and anguish and tears of the mothers do not derail the psychopathic monarch from his policy

It is a simple enough composition. It tells its story in a short compass

 Macrobius (c. 395-423) wrote in his Saturnalia:
"When he [emperor Augustus] heard that among the boys in Syria under two years old whom Herod, king of the Jews, had ordered to kill, his own son was also killed, he said: it is better to be Herod's pig, than his son."
Herod is seen here as a butcher who treats his people as if they were lower than animals

The style of the work  is Byzantine neo-Hellene. Others term it Luccan Romanesque. 

The rules of perspective are not adhered to as these rules do not come into Luccan and Tuscan painting until a few centuries later

We might today cite it as an example of primitive art

The fragment above has usually been attributed to the mysterious and unknown Berlinghiero di Melanese from Volterra. He had three sons, also artists: Barone, Bonaventura and Marco

Now some scholars think that the above work was in fact the work of his son Marco (flourished 1232-1255). They also see similarities in the work to some frescoes in the Baptistry at Parma in an Eastern Serbian style which they say supports this view

Some of Marco`s works can be seen on Sacrum Luce: arte sacra nel territorio lucchese here

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