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Artwork of the Week

'At the Gates' by Henry Ossawa Tanner

Artwork of the Week: June 17, 2024

Mary and Joseph with a donkey in front of them
Henry Ossawa Tanner (1859-1937), 'At the Gates (Flight into Egypt),' c.1926-1927, oil on panel, 26 11/16 x 19 1/16 inches. Brigham Young University Museum of Art, purchased with funds provided by Stanford C. Stoddard, 2019.

This week, we join in celebration of Juneteenth by highlighting At the Gates (Flight into Egypt) (c. 1926-1927) by Henry Ossawa Tanner. Tanner was an African-American artist whose mother escaped enslavement through the Underground Railroad; the artist himself felt driven from America by oppressive racism, which led him to spend most of his life as an expatriate in France. This personal history may account for Tanner’s fascination with Mary and Joseph’s emigrant experience, as this painting is one of fifteen images Tanner created of these refugees’ journey into Egypt.

The nocturnal scene is a hazy and dream-like interpretation of the Holy Family’s decision to flee into Egypt, according to the narrative presented in the Holy Bible’s Matthew 2. The Christ Child is seen cradled in the arms of his mother, with Joseph standing a short distance off. An impressive and almost otherworldly light bursts throughout the canvas, originating near Mary, highlighting the figures in their abstraction. The intentional use of abstract presentation for these individuals allows the viewer to imagine the expressions and emotions felt by the Holy Family, as well as contemplate their struggles and trials ahead.

This piece stands as a crucial addition to the BYU Museum of Art’s collection and offers new perspectives into key religious scenes. Come experience this beloved paintingin person in the BYU MOA’s exhibition Of Souls and Sacraments: Symbol and Context in Christian Art!

Guest Writer: Abby Jafek, MOA Student Educator

Past Artworks of the Week

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'The Raising of Lazarus' by Rembrandt

July 15, 2024
Artwork of the Week: July 15, 2024
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'The Visitation' by Käthe Kollwitz

July 08, 2024
Artwork of the Week: July 8, 2024
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'End of a June Day' by Mahonri Young

July 01, 2024
Artwork of the Week: July 1, 2024
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