The "Massacre of the Innocents" refers to an episode, told in short by Matthew in his Gospel (2,1-16), in which the king of Judea, Herod the Great, informed by the Magi about the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem and determined to kill him, ordered the massacre of all the children of the region. Jesus avoided the massacre because his father Joseph, warned in a dream by an angel, fled to Egypt and went back to Galilee only after Herod's death.
This episode has not been historically confirmed and therefore it is considered a legend; however this event, known as the "Massacre of the Innocents" is a recurring theme in the art and has been represented since the sixth century by many artists and engravers such as the Master of the Codex Egberti (X century), Giotto (1304-1306), Duccio (1308-1311), Fra Angelico (1450), Matteo di Giovanni (1488), Domenico Ghirlandaio (1486-1490), Pieter Bruegel the Elder (1565-1567), Cornelis van Haarlem (1590), Guido Reni (1611-1612), Nicolas Poussin (1628-1629), Peter Paul Rubens (1637).
Common features of all the representations are the multitude of the young victims, the cruelty of the soldiers and the desperation of the mothers, while the background landscape often reflects the environments and places familiar to the artists.
Also Raphael works on this issue and produces a cardboard for the Vatican tapestry and a subject for the chisel of Marcantonio Raimondi (Moline, 1480? - Bologna, 1534); the people arrangement of the Massacre of the Innocents is specially designed by Raphael for him to be used for an engraving (pict.1).
Raimondi, who regularly works on subjects of Raphael, decides to include as a background a view of Ponte Fabricio and choices that just drawn only a few years earlier by the Anonymous Escurialensis (pict.2), which in turn repeats the Julian da Sangallo's one, that is different only in some details.
Since in the Raphael subject and in the background image the light comes from opposite directions, Raimondi makes the illuminations coherent by mirroring the background; therefore, in the final print the layout of the Ponte Fabricio is curiously reversed.
Raimondi carries out two versions (pict.3 and pict.4), the first between 1511-1512 and the second one between 1513-1515, which differ by the presence or absence of so-called "felcetta" [small fern], a conifer visible at the top right of the background.
BIBLIOGRAPHY AND REFERENCES
1- SETTEMUSE.IT Link (access April 2012)
2- LOMBARDIA BENI CULTURALI Link (access April 2012)
3- TRECCANI.IT Link (access April 2012)
--- Pictures and text from: BRUNO LEONI - Duos Pontes - Ed. www.ilmiolibro.it - © June 2014