Massacre of the Innocents
par François~Joseph Navez

117x134 cm

     This unusual depiction of the Massacre of the Innocents, signed and dated 1824 on the golden bowl in the foreground, is one of a series of religious paintings which Navez executed following his return from Rome in 1821. Here, the slaughter of the children of Bethlehem of two years old and under, as King Herod sought to rid himself of the Christ Child (Matthew 2:16), is depicted only in a frenzied vignette on the upper left. Rather than mayhem, Navez explored the personal, intensely emotional dimensions of the tragedy.
      His use of half-length figures close to the picture plane, and of saturated colors reminiscent of 17th-century Flemish traditions, recall the history paintings that David was executing at the same time. The painting moves away from Davidian naturalism, however, towards a more austere purity of line and stylization of form which owe a debt to Ingres, as does the languid arm that the mother in the center folds across her head. The enamel paint surface that Navez achieves is also reminiscent of Ingres. Original to Navez, perhaps, is the anti~clockwise pinwheel movement of the four heads on the right which comes to a halt in the confrontation of profiles on the left.