Work Angels Announcing Christ's Birth to the Shepherds
Department of Paintings: Dutch painting
The Annunciation to the Shepherds
© 2005 Musée du Louvre / Erich Lessing
A picture strongly inspired by Rembrandt's engraving of the same subject (1634) executed during his finest baroque phase - but while Rembrandt chose a vertical format suited to this sacred event, Flinck opts for a horizontal composition, also to good effect.
A supernatural apparition
A beautiful white angel, surrounded by a cloud of cherubs, is descending from the heavens to announce the birth of Christ to the shepherds. The supernatural apparition bathes the scene in a warm light. The celestial messenger seems to hardly disturb the shepherds' nocturnal peace. Although some men are respectfully praying, others are still sleeping. Their sheep, momentarily disturbed by the movements of the cow, prepare to huddle together for warmth again.
The model: an engraving by Rembrandt
Govert Flinck painted this early work only three years after he had left Rembrandt's studio. He had assimilated his master's golden light, which corresponds perfectly to the subject here. Flinck's touch is ample and generous but the great finesse he shows in his execution of the cherubs is reminiscent of Rembrandt's early works. The composition is inspired by an engraving of the same subject executed by Rembrandt in 1634. Flinck has borrowed the uncanny atmosphere Rembrandt gave the apparition, plus details such as the oriental-style palm tree and the cow with the bowed back. Other motifs - the praying shepherd on the right and the cherubs dancing a rondo - also come straight out of other works by Rembrandt.
A more human sacredness
Yet, despite these similarities, this picture should not be considered a mere Rembrandtesque pastiche. The composition has one fundamental difference: the significant switch from Rembrandt's grandiose and theatrical vertical format to Govert Flinck's peaceful horizontality. The angel is leaning gently towards the shepherds, who welcome the messenger in calm prayer, whereas Rembrandt depicted some of them fleeing, terror-stricken. Flinck brings the divine and the human closer, unlike Rembrandt, who emphasized the mystery of the apparition with exaggerated dramatic effects. Flinck's humans are far more serene and he shows them in their daily life: the group keeping watch and the sleeping shepherd form a veritable genre scene in the midst of this biblical event. This toning down of Rembrandt's bombast is characteristic in pupils of the great master. Flinck's work is just as religious but his reassuring spirit shows the extent to which the pupil succeeded in differentiating himself from his master.
BibliographyExposition, Paris, Musée du Petit-Palais, 1970, Le Siècle de Rembrandt : tableaux hollandais des collections publiques françaises, Paris, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1970, pp. 70-72.
Govaert FLINCK (Cleve, 1615 - Amsterdam, 1660)
The Annunciation to the Shepherds
H. 1.60 m; W. 1.96 m
Acquired in Paris from the dealers Coclers et Paillet in exchange for nine "Flemish" paintings confiscated from émigrés during the Revolution, 1799 , 1799
Holland, 17th century
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