The commentary of the cover

“Hark! my lover—here he comes springing across the mountains, leaping across the hills!” by Pierre-Marie Dumont

Though entitled The Flight into Egypt, the scene illustrated here is more likely that of the return from Egypt. According to one Arab tradition, the Holy Family set sail on the Nile near Cairo and, having descended the river, set out to sea for Palestine, where they landed at Mount Carmel. According to another tradition, the Holy Family retraced Moses’ route to the Promised Land. But, at the same spot where the Hebrews, pursued by Pharaoh, had crossed on dry land, the Holy Family had to board a boat to cross a stretch of the Red Sea. This is the version illustrated here by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo († 1770). The boat is a symbolic figure of the Church en route to the kingdom of the Father. In this frail skiff, the Holy Family represents the archetype of the Christian community, with Christ at its vital core. The sea does not part for the Church on its earthly pilgrimage. She will have to traverse the centuries navigating through tribulations, represented here by the moving waters. No disciple is above his teacher, no slave above his master (Mt 10:24): the ordeals not spared the redeeming Son of God will neither be spared the redeemed children of God.

Accompanying the boat in the foreground, Tiepolo has painted a pair of swans. Why place here this symbol of unfailing faithfulness, the divine hallmark authenticating conjugal love? Promised as bride to the Son of God from the creation of the world—all things were created through him and for him (Col 1:16)—humankind has never ceased its unfaithfulness to his covenant, to the point of offering itself up, body and soul, to the prince of the kingdom of suffering and death. Humiliated, scorned, the Son of God yet remains faithful to his beloved, never ceasing to confront the empire of evil to reconquer her heart. Having taken on human nature to save and divinize his beloved, here is God, only just escaped from the fury of Herod, returning to redeem her from her infamous master and to prove his love by loving her, and loving her to the end.

 Pierre-marie Dumont

Flight into Egypt (1765–1770), Giambattista Tiepolo (1696–1770), National Museum of Ancient Art, Lisbon, Portugal. © Selva / Leemage