abanindranath tagore, art, Baroque, bengal, Bible, bread, Carracci, Cortona, feast, Fish, fresco, Giovanni Lanfranco, God, gospel, Italy, jamini roy, Jesus, Krishna, Lord Krishna, Madhusudan, Mannerism, miracle, nandalal basu, painting, Palazzo Pitti, raja ravi varma, Rome, yoghurt
It is one of the miracles of Jesus as described in the Gospels.
When Jesus heard of John the Baptist’s death, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place near Bethsaida.
Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns.
14 When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick. 15 As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, ‘This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.’
16 Jesus replied, ‘They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.’
17 ‘We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish,’ they answered.
18 ‘Bring them here to me,’ he said. 19 And he directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. 20 They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. 21 The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children.
The incident was depicted vividly by the old masters through paintings, frescoes and other form of art. Giovanni Lanfranco happens to be one of them. Giovanni Lanfranco (26th January, 1582 – 30th November, 1647) received training from none other than the Carracci, the Bolognese masters. His dramatic and visionary style of narrative won him accolades among his peers and even in the circle of Pope Paul V. Annunciation (1615) in San Carlo ai Catinari, The Gods of Olympus the Villa Borghese and Assumption of the Virgin (1627) frescoed on the dome of Sant’Andrea della Valle remain eminent pieces of Baroque frescoes and paintings to this date. It is possible that his Ectasy of Saint Margaret of Cortona (Galleria Platina, Palazzo Pitti, Florence) as an altarpiece for Santa Maria Nuova in Cortona (1622) inspired Bernini’s St Theresa in Ecstasy on a later date. His work in St Peter earned him Knight of the Order of Christ from Pope Urban VIII and he was named Prince of the Academy of Saint Luke, the artist’s guild in Rome. Lanfranco explored Baroque with an intellectual sophistication of Mannerism and also added Caravaggesque tenebrism to it.
Miracle of Bread and Fish (1620 – 1623) by Giovanni Lanfranco
At a backdrop of a different time and place a similar story developed describing the miracles of Lord Krishna. Famous author Paulo Coelho included the tale in his compilation, Like the Flowing River, under the head, Raj Tells Me a Story.
A boy lived in a village of Bengal. His widow mother was extremely poor and struggled to make ends meet. The boy needed to walk through a forest in order to reach school and he felt very afraid treading the dark and mysterious woods everyday. To assure him, his mother used to say, ‘Don’t be afraid. Ask brother Madhusudan (Lord Krishna) to go with you as you enter the forest. He will hear you.’
The boy used to follow his mother’s advice to calm his quivering heart. One day, he needed to buy some presents for his teacher to gift him on his birthday. All his schoolmates planned to buy gifts and he would not have gone empty handed. He asked his mother for some money to buy presents but his poor mother could not have afforded it. Next day, as the despondent boy entered the forest, he sought help from brother Madhusudan. He tearfully asked brother Madhusudan to help him as he was in fear of being ridiculed at school. Brother Madhusudan appeared and presented him with a cup of yoghurt. Relieved of his pain and anxiety, the boy reached school with a merry heart and presented the cup full of yoghurt to the teacher. Every other student bought attractive and expensive gifts. Seeing his humble gift everyone in the class burst out in laughter and the teacher too tucked the cup away in some corner of a room behind the class room. At the end of the day when the teacher was busy arranging gifts and other things in the room he saw the cup again. He poured the yoghurt onto a plate and kept the cup aside and left the room to attend some errand. When he got back again to his surprise he saw the cup filled to the brink once again. He poured the yoghurt to a bowl and immediately it got filled up once again. The cup was never emptied even after every student satisfied himself eating the yoghurt. The teacher would not believe the boy’s version of the story when he said, ‘Brother Madhusudan presented him with the cup.’ The teacher and the other students entered into the forest and demanded that Madhusudan be appeared in front of them so that the boy’s version of the story could be justified. Nobody answered their demand. The angry teacher started yelling at the boy and also called him a liar. The crestfallen boy requested brother Madhusudan to show himself. At that moment a voice thundered saying, ‘I can’t! They do not even believe I exist!’
Lord Krishna has been portrayed by the likes of Abanindranath Tagore, Nandalal Basu, Jamini Roy and Raja Ravi Varma. Yet, it is surprising that no artist of the region, past or present, thought of illustrating this wonderful story on canvas to date.
- Annibale Carracci & The Bolognese School (ipseand.wordpress.com)