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The Book of Baruch

The Book of Baruch is only a short text, attributed to Jeremiah’s secretary, but probably written much later, mostly in the first century BC.

The first part of the Book is a prayer of the exiles in Babylon. The Jews in exile recognise that Yahweh has brought misery upon them to punish them for having deserted their God. They promise to abide in exile by Yahweh’s rules, in hope of the return to the Promised Land of their ancestors.

The second part repeats these hopes and it praises the knowledge of Yahweh. This knowledge of Yahweh is called the fountain of wisdom.

The third text repeats the lamentations and also the hopes of the exiled Jews in Babylon, whereas the last part is a copy of a letter that Jeremiah sent to the people that were about to be led into captivity. The letter urges the people to live by Yahweh and to forsake foreign gods.

The Exile of the Hebrews in Babylonia

Antonio Puccinelli (1822-1897). Galleria dell’Accademia. Florence. 1851.

Antonio Puccinelli was born near the town of Pisa in Italy. He studied in Florence, at the Accademia di Belle Arti and painted scenes of Italian life, genre scenes, and portraits. He also painted historical scenes, and on mythological and religious themes. He won a fist price at Florence’s Academy, which allowed him in 1849 to live in Rome and work and study there in the Palazzo Toscana. The ‘Exile of the Jews in Babylon’ was painted during his stay in Rome.

The middle of the nineteenth century was a time during which academic painting was in fashion in Rome. Many painters studied there, of all nationalities, the most supported by stipends from their countries and living in international academies established in palaces of Rome. They worked in the palaces occupied by their countries in promotion of the national arts: sculpture, painting and music. Historical, classical and religious themes were practised and Rome was the centre of an important art trade. To the painters and sculptors came many rich aristocrats, tradesmen, wealthy industrialists and intellectuals in quest for culture. Rome and travels to the other great cities of art in Italy such as Florence, Genoa, Venice and Naples, were in fashion. The artists that lived from their academies in Rome obliged, created and sustained the fashion. The result was an odd mix of artists and seekers of culture that formed an atmosphere in which snobbery was mingled with real interest for the arts. The theme of the exile of the Jews in Babylon was well known by the public in 1850. Giuseppe Verdi had written his opera Nabucco on this subject and also other painters but Puccinelli had taken up scenes of the Jews enchained like slaves, deported through the desert to Babylon.

Puccinelli painted a picture in the purest Neo-Classical, academic tradition. He showed the Jews enslaved, being led to Babylon. He painted in soft, warm, pastel colours, as was often the fashion of the Neo-Classical painters. He also had to show the Orient, and Orient could mean a desert, so that Puccinelli used the colour of sand to create an overall mood in his painting. All shades of yellow and brown are in his picture, as well as broken white, to a gentle mood. Puccinelli obtained a fine harmony of these shades in the light of the desert. He painted a camel to suggest that the Jews had travelled through the deserts to reach the green oasis of Babylon and the rivers. He caught well the light of the desert. A cool light pervades the picture and like in old Renaissance paintings Puccinelli applied little shadows and he kept chiaroscuro delicate. He painted some aerial perspective, using a dark zone in the lower part of the picture lighter areas towards the background. He faded the figures in the centre to indicate distance. In this distance is a wide, flat landscape of the low hills of the desert. Puccinelli than set a calm sky with a little blue, but also dominated by the sandy colour of the earth.

We see several families of Hebrews, resting from the long journey in Puccinelli’s painting. Women hold babies, and men console them. The group is guarded by Babylonian warriors wearing long lances. Puccinelli focused the drama on one family. He made this family the centre of the attention by situating them in the middle of the picture and in its brightest spot. Here we see a man, his wife and child standing. They are the only family that stands upright; the other families are sitting down. She holds her hand before her face, hiding her tears in a melodramatic gesture. She has a son by her side and in this child Puccinelli brought the only pure blue patch of the picture, to attract the viewer’s attention. The viewer will pity the child. A little more to the right, Puccinelli showed another woman leading away an old man, maybe the grandfather of the family, so that the viewer would understand that a whole nation with young and old was led into exile.

Antonio Puccinelli painted all the figures in fine detail and nice harmonious colours, but except for the scene of the family, which he positioned in the centre of the frame, it is hard to discover strong structure of composition. He placed the centre family in what could vaguely be considered an ‘Open V’ structure, but the landscape that one would expect there is actually situated on the right. Puccinelli was obviously less interested in strict academic composition and we sense a freer, more Romantic depiction of emotions at work that Neo-Classical rigour. Puccinelli made a picture of a scene from the Old Testament that was in the air of the times, hoping for a Maecenas to be charmed by its content. That was the best he could do with his talent.

Copyright: René Dewil Back to the navigation screen (if that screen has been closed) Last updated: January 2007
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