Rest on the Flight Into Egypt
Ignaz Johann Bendl (Austrian, 1680–about 1730)
Le Blanc 2
Platemark: 37.4 x 53.5 cm (14 3/4 x 21 1/16 in.) Sheet: 38.5 x 55 cm (15 3/16 x 21 5/8 in.) Mount: 51.2 x 74 cm (20 3/16 x 29 1/8 in.)
Medium or Technique
Not On View
On Liechtenstein mount
Ignaz Bendl was the son of the first important Baroque sculptor in Bohemia, Johann Georg Bendl (d. 1680). The younger Bendl was signing works as an independent master by 1684. He was active as a sculptor, medalist, and printmaker. His work appears early on in Hapsburg ducal and imperial inventories. About 1687, he received the commission to complete sculptural reliefs on the most prominent piece of outdoor sculpture in Vienna, the “Pestsäule” of Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach, which still stands in the center of the Graben, the central plaza of the city. In 1690, he collaborated again with Fischer von Erlach in creating commemorative medals struck for the coronation of Kaiser Joseph I. His most important sculptural program was an allegorical fountain more than four meters tall for the central plaza of Brno (1693-99, now in the courtyard of the Moravské (Moravian) Museum). Bendl appears to have taken up etching as a way of recording and publicizing his sculptural productions. He went on to publish designs for a wide array of objects, such as vases, lamps, teapots, sleighs, and sedan chairs. Among Bendl’s pictorial etchings, Oskar Pollak (Th.-B. III, p. 303) ranked “The Rest on the Flight into Egypt” as the most important.
The story of the Holy Family’s flight to Egypt to escape persecution by King Herod is given in the second chapter of Matthew. The evocative yet spare account inspired artists to give free reign to their imaginations from the Middle Ages on. Bendl’s etching shows the Holy Family during a moment of repose before they undertake the crossing of a body of water, possibly the Nile or the Sea of Galilee. Mary is seated amid fragments of an ancient monument–perhaps an allusion to religious practices that would be superceded by Christianity. She nurses Christ. Joseph stands nearby, holding the donkey’s lead. At the water’s edge are four fishermen, an allusion to the Apostles, the “fishers of men,” who would later help to spread the message of Christ.
The convincing masses of the holy family reveal a sculptor’s sensitivity to light. Christian Theuerkauff unconvincingly argues that Bendl’s omission of the word “invenit” in his signature suggests that the etching is based on the work of another artist such as Pier Francesco Mola or Elisabetta Sirani (Metropolitan Museum Journal, v. 26 (1991), 262). Bendl’s interest in both Roman and Bolognese art is seen through much of his work. It seems a bit hasty to categorize this impressive print as a reproductive work in the absence of an identifiable source. As an ambitious sculptor who often made plaques in high relief, Bendl almost certainly made himself familiar with prints by and after major artists. The somewhat compressed depth of the fisherman standing on the bank clearly recalls Bendl’s own work in stone and ivory. Whether derived from the work of the Carracci or some of their followers, Bendl’s handling of the etching needle shows clear familiarity with the clarity and freshness typical of Bolognese work. His vibrant touch, punctuating shadows, and forms dissolved blinding light seem to point the way toward the Tiepolo family etching style. Interestingly, Domenico, the younger Tiepolo, explored the theme of the Holy Family’s flight in an extended series that included many images of their passage over water.
Bendl’s family lived in Prague. It is unclear whether he was related to Ehrgott Bernhard Bendl, 1660-1738, who made the MFA’s polychrome wood sculptures (58.43-44).
In plate at left: Bendl 1700
The Princes of Liechtenstein (Vienna), collection dispersed early 1950s; probably P & D Colnaghi (London); private collection; Lutz Riester (Freiburg, Germany); from whom purchased by MFA, 21 June 2006.
Museum purchase with funds donated by Brent R. Benjamin