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The Book of Isaiah

The Book of the Prophet Isaiah consists of three parts, written at different periods and probably by different people. The first part was written around 740 BC. Isaiah starts his prophecies by addressing the people of Judah and Jerusalem. He called them an ungrateful people. He laments on the coming destruction of Jerusalem, which he called a harlot city. Although Isaiah prophesies a magnificent vision of Yahweh’s majesty and the ultimate peace that will arise out of the bloodshed of Jerusalem, he describes the anarchy of the city, the despair of the women of Jerusalem deprived of jewels and perfumes, and the total misery of the town.

Yahweh makes Isaiah sing a parable to his beloved. The beloved had a fertile vineyard. He expected it to yield fine grapes but wild grapes were all he obtained. The friend then tore out the hedges around the vineyard, for the land to be grazed upon so that it went to waste. The parable showed that the Houses of Israel and of Judah could be compared to a vineyard from which protection was withdrawn, for the land to be trampled upon. Yahweh thus brings curses to the people of Israel and of Judah, by summoning the invaders to lay waste the land and to drive the people away from the country of their ancestors.

When Ahaz was King of Judah, Razon King of Aram and Pekah King of Israel, these kings allied and attacked Judah and Jerusalem. The House of David was informed, and the advance of Aram was stopped in the land of Ephraim. Yahweh sent Isaiah to the King of Judah to calm him, for he had ordained that the invasion would not be dangerous for Judah. But at the same time Yahweh told Isaiah to predict a more devastating invasion coming from Assyria. At this time a son was born to Isaiah and they called him Maher-Shabal-Hash-Baz, as Yahweh had asked. Isaiah predicted the fall of Israel by the Assyrians.

The King of Assyria would be punished later however for his insolence and the House of Jacob would return to the Holy God of Israel. Isaiah prophesied that then a new shoot would spring from the root of Jesse, on which would rest the spirit of Yahweh, the spirit of wisdom and of insight, of council, power and knowledge. In this time, the wolf would live with the lamb, the panther sleep with the kid and all the wild beasts would be led by a little boy. This root of Jesse would be sought out by all the nations. The scattered people from Judah would gather again and the enemies of Judah would be suppressed.

Isaiah wrote also a proclamation against Babylon, warning these people for the wrath and power of Yahweh. He predicted the death of the King of Babylon and the return of the House of Israel to the Promised Land. Isaiah wrote proclamations against Assyria, against the Philistines, Edom, the Arabs, against Moab, against Damascus, Cush and Egypt. Isaiah wrote proclamations against the merchant city of Tyre. Isaiah prophesied the fall of Babylon but he also wrote against Shebna, the master of the palace of Jerusalem. He warned Jerusalem not to rejoice, because the defences of the town would fall too and Yahweh would punish the people of Jerusalem for building new houses on the old ones, new walls on the old ones and new reservoirs where there had been old pools. Isaiah told that the people of Jerusalem thus forgot the sentence of the creator and that they forgot the creator of the old monuments, who finished them a long time ago. Isaiah predicted an apocalypse when Yahweh would emerge to punish the inhabitants of the earth.

The second part of the Book of Isaiah is a long prophecy of the deliverance of the Jews from the Babylonian exile. This part was written about a hundred and fifty years later than the first part. Like the first Isaiah, this prophet called Isaiah talks of the fulfilment of the promise made by Yahweh to return Israel to the Jews and to the remnants of David’s House, in the faith, glory and peace of Yahweh. In this second part also are four Songs of the Servant of Yahweh, in which the servant vows to follow Yahweh’s ways and in which the writer expresses confidence in the final salvation of Israel by Yahweh.

The third part of the Book of Isaiah was written later still, after the return from the Babylonian exile. This Isaiah describes the splendour of the restored Jerusalem, the reward of a people that has acted onto what is pleasing to their God. The prophet meditates on the history of Israel in an allegorical text and he describes the fair judgement of Yahweh on all people.

The Book of Isaiah closes with a short discourse on the final judgement, when Yahweh will gather every nation and every language to glorify him. After this, Yahweh promises once more to endure the race and name of Israel.

The Prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah

Master of the Annunciation of Aix, Barthélémy d’Eyck (active around 1440 to 1470). Museum Boymans-Van Beuningen, Rotterdam; Musée d’Art Ancien, Brussels. Ca. 1442-1445.

Barthélémy d’Eyck was born in the Limburg region of Belgium or the Netherlands, like the most famous Jan van Eyck of which he may have been family. His mother married in second marriage a painter, Peter van Bijlandt, also called Pierre du Billant because the couple travelled to France and to the Provence, where van Bijlandt found work with the Duke of the Provence. Barthélémy may have learned to paint from his stepfather. He too worked then in the Provence, and more in particular for the rich and gentle King René d’Anjou (1409-1480) who has been called ‘Le Bon Roi René’, the good king.

René d’Anjou was not only Duke of the Provence. He was also in his glorious days King of Naples and Sicily, Duke of Anjou, Bar and Lorraine. King René was also a writer. He wrote a novel, ‘Coeur d’Amour Épris’, or ‘A heart taken by Love’ and a copy of this work in the Austrian National library contains miniatures made by Barthélémy. Pierre du Billant, stepfather of d’Eyck, was court painter of René d’Anjou and accompanied King René to Naples from 1438 to 1442. René d’Anjou had acquired the Neapolitan throne in 1438 and travelled to his residence in Naples shortly thereafter. Du Billant and maybe also Barthélémy d’Eyck may have been exposed there to the Neapolitan painters such as Niccolò Colantonio. In 1442 René d’Anjou had to abandon the crown of Naples however, to his rival Alphonso V of Aragon and Naples came into Spanish hands.

Barthélémy d’Eyck was in his turn, and probably from 1447 to 1470, court painter of René d’Anjou. He drew and painted miniatures but also on large altarpieces. One of these is the altarpiece of the Annunciation of Aix-en-Provence, King René’s capital, so that in the beginning the master of these panels and other similar works was called the ‘Master of the Annunciation of Aix’ before being identified with Barthélémy d’Eyck. The various panels of the altarpiece have been dispersed, so that even today only the central panel remains in Aix cathedral. The exact composition of the altarpiece has been a subject of speculation and debate, but the portrait of the Prophet Isaiah may have been its left wing. ‘Saint Mary Magdalene kneeling’ was on its reverse side. The ‘prophet Jeremiah’ was the right-wing panel, with a Christ on the reverse. The picture of Isaiah is now in the Museum Boymans-van Beuningen in Rotterdam, whereas the panel of Jeremiah is in the Brussels Museum of Ancient Art.

The triptych was foreseen for the Saint-Sauveur cathedral of Aix and commissioned by Pierre Corpici of Aix, a draper, who was in the service of René d’Anjou. The central panel was an Annunciation. On the opened side panels were the representation of Isaiah and Jeremiah. The two prophets are represented as if they were wealthy burghers of the Provence region. They are dressed in fine clothes. Isaiah wears a green robe and Jeremiah a splendid red one. Isaiah’s headdress has a patch of red, while the inside of Jeremiah’s robe is green. So, Barthélémy d’Eyck made the colours respond on left and right. Only Jeremiah wears a cap that could remind of a monk’s dress. Jeremiah reads from a book, probably the Bible, whereas Isaiah seems to warn or indicate the importance of the Annunciation theme. On top of both pictures is a still life. The two still lives show a rack with books, ribbons, cases and pots, and are very lively in the assembly of various objects in all different positions.

The two panels were painted as if the figures represented statues. This was often the habit in Northern pictures, as many such altarpieces originally held statues whereas in later periods the statues were replaced by painted scenes. The painted statues, often in grisaille are illusions of the statues that originally adorned the triptychs. Triptychs also originally consisted of three panels so that the two side panels would close upon the central box of statues. Barthélémy d’Eyck, in the best Northern Flemish tradition, placed his Prophets on pedestals as if they were indeed sculptures. But he loved colours too much, so he painted the Prophets in fine, complementary and bright hues of red and green. Combinations of these colours with the yellow of flesh hue are also in the still lives.

Barthélémy d’Eyck was a colourist. He loves clear, pure hues. We remark that in the colours of the prophet’s dresses, and also in his bright, high-intensity hues such as the light blue of Jeremiah’s book. He painted in very fine chiaroscuro all the folds on the robes of the Prophets. He had a keen eye for the psychology of his figures and showed that in the faces of the figures. Isaiah is in tension. He has the face of a worrying and dignified man, but also of a man that knows when to decide. He is the most aristocratic personage. Jeremiah then is the clerical man, the monk, the reading, wise man with the round face and small somewhat sensual lips. He draws his mouth in reflection, in the way of a man who criticises while he reads. He may be the more intellectual personage. Barthélémy d’Eyck painted Isaiah as the entrepreneur, the trader, the banker whereas Jeremiah is the religious man but anyhow also the one who most profits from good life.

D’Eyck showed illusion of space well: both Prophets are positioned in the corner of a room or chapel and in a niche, but d’Eyck knew the rules of perspective and especially in the niche of Jeremiah we se that the lines of floor and ceiling are not parallel but will cross at an imaginary vanishing point. Effects of perspective are also in the pedestals on which the Prophets stand. Together with the chiaroscuro the perspective creates volume. Barthélémy d’Eyck created space by his knowledge of perspective. He also painted well the shadows thrown by the light coming from the front left in both pictures on the walls behind the Prophets. Emphasis of shadows of figures was rare in Gothic and Renaissance pictures and Barthélémy d’Eyck belonged more to the former than to the latter period. Inside panels of altarpieces however, such shadows were common and Barthélémy d’Eyck may have seen and learnt from these polyptychs. The octagonal pedestals for instance were also used by Jan van Eyck in several of his niche paintings of grisaille figures in the creation of illusion of volume and depth. Barthélémy d’Eyck equally used such little means in a masterly way.

The Dying Hezekiah

Domenico Fiasella (1589-1669). Galleria di Palazzo Bianco. Genoa. Ca. 1640.

Domenico Fiasella was born at Sarzana near Genoa in 1589. His father Giovanni was a silversmith. From the age of eleven he studied drawing and painting in Genoa, first with Aurelio Lomi (1556-1622) and then in the workshop of Giovanni Battista Paggi (1554-1627). He travelled to Rome in 1606-1607, where after a while Guido Reni admired his work and introduced him to other painters such as Giuseppe Cesari the Cavaliere d’Arpino (1568-1640), with which Fiasella then also worked. He also learned to know Domenico Cresti, called Il Passignano. Fiasella returned to Genoa however, around 1615, to open his own workshop there and he became one of Genoa’s best known artists. After the death of Giovanni Paggi (1627) and the departure from Genoa of Bernardo Strozzi and Giovanni Benedetto Castiglioni, Domenico Fiasella was the best known painter in Genoa. He worked for the government of the republic but also for the Dukes of Mantua. Many painters worked in Fiasella ‘s times: Giovanni Andrea de Ferrari (ca. 1598-1669), Orazio de Ferrari (1606-1657), Giovanni Battista Carlone (1603-1684), Giovanni Benedetto Castiglioni (1609-1664), Luciano Borzone (1590-1645), Bernardo Strozzi (1581-1644), Gioacchino Assereto (1600-1649) and the Flemish artists Lucas de Wael (1591-1666) and Cornelis de Wael (1592-1667), whereas also Pieter Paul Rubens and Anthony van Dyck passed by Genoa, but Domenico Fiasella was Genoa’s established value. Fiasella painted religious scenes, also from the Old Testament. He was an eminent Baroque painter, specialised in scenes of figures rather than landscapes. He painted frescoes in the Palazzo Lomellini from the stories of Esther. He died in Genoa in 1669. Many of his works are in his home town of Sarzana.

Hezekiah, the King of Jerusalem fell ill and his court feared for his life. Isaiah, son of Amoz, came to see him and told him that Yahweh had predicted that the king would not live. Hezekiah then prayed to Yahweh, told that he had always behaved in good faith and done what was right in the eyes of God. Hezekiah shred many tears. Yahweh relented and ordered Isaiah to go back to Hezekiah with the message that he had heard the prayers of the king and that he would cure him. Yahweh would add fifteen years to the king’s life, save Jerusalem from the invasion of the Assyrians and defend Jerusalem for David’s sake. Isaiah ordered a fig poultice to be brought and rubbed that over the ulcer of the king to cure him. Yahweh then told Hezekiah to go to the Temple three days later and he gave to Isaiah and Hezekiah a sign of his promise: the shadow cast by the declining sun on the steps of Ahaz’ roof-room would go back ten steps. And so it happened. Hezekiah then sang a canticle of praise to Yahweh.

Domenico Fiasella painted the scene of the dying king Hezekiah and Isaiah’s visit to the king. The King talks to the prophet. Hezekiah lies in bed, ill from the ulcer. Hezekiah’s doctor is also at the bed, as well as two youth who could be Hezekiah’s sons. Fiasella painted a scene of the conversation between Prophet and King. Hezekiah explains what happens with his illness, and he shows he has not deserved Yahweh’s wrath. Hezekiah supports his good faith and his story with his hands. Isaiah hears and is the wise old prophet. He stands with one arm behind his back but bends his head towards the King, his friend. With his left hand Isaiah points towards the window, indicating the sign of Yahweh who made the sun retreat against its normal course. Behind Isaiah one of Hezekiah’s sons looks with pity to his father and with rue concern. Fiasella succeeded well in showing the illness of the King. He showed how the King lies with his head on the bed and Hezekiah’s head inclines and rests, as if exhausted. The king does not sit upright and by the ways he supports his head we sense the fatigues of the illness on the king. Once Hezekiah was the powerful leader, dressed in magnificent robes of ceremony, covered with gold. Now he lies in bed and his night-shirt open on a meagre chest, where we can imagine the ulcer that made him ill. At the foot of the bed sits Hezekiah’s court doctor, dressed in black. He too is wise, a grey-bearded man. But his beard is well kept, shorter and more sophisticated than the wild, ample beards of the king and of the Prophet. The doctor keeps his head to his front; he is thinking about what might be the reason for the king’s ails. Between the heads of King and Prophet is another youth, who could equally be the King’s son. This son protects his eyes from the sun with his left hand. He looks at the roof of Ahaz’ house and must see there the sun reclining ten steps, as Yahweh had promised to do as a sign of his good will towards the king. Hezekiah is the king, for next to him, on the bed, Fiasella painted his crown.

Domenico Fiasella made a baroque painting of rather large dimensions, with lively drama in his figures. He painted a night scene with obvious contrasts between light and dark, as he may have seen in Rome from Caravaggio and his followers just a few years before he returned to Genoa. He still had some interest for the background and also for the sake of his story he had to paint the open window and a roof-top. The light does not enter through that window, but seems to come from the front and we see fine chiaroscuro on the king’s bare chest, on the folds of the bed-covers and especially on Isaiah’s pink robe. Fiasella painted a story; the essence of his picture is the rendering of a narrative. There is much content in the painting, yet the content stays in the five heads and Fiasella placed these five faces almost in the same horizontal band of the picture. In composition he used the right diagonal of the frame and positioned Hezekiah’s bed along it. To the right and left Fiasella used vertical directions, impersonified on the left by the high figure of Isaiah and on the right by the doctor, whom Fiasella painted quite lower than Isaiah to support his diagonal. Thus the viewer seems to look at the painting from the left side, from close to Isaiah. Fiasella worked in broad brushstrokes but he nevertheless well depicted the details of the robes, bedcovers, even of a piece of cloth on the pail at the lower end of the frame.

Domenico Fiasella’s strength was in his depiction of realistic figures and scenes of religious themes. He told stories well, and explained the theme in the expression of the faces of his personages. He was a fin professional. But we lack in him the power and genius of a new vision and of the unity of the action that was the force of for instance Rembrandt. Fiasella told a different story with each personage and this weakened his power of expression, diverted some the attention of the viewer. Fiasella was an excellent painter who represented the Baroque period in Genoa, making fine scenes of the Old Testament such as this the ‘Dying King Hezekiah’, a rare theme in painting.

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