Harmonious in its formal conception, a primal image of a (persecuted) family, this composition stands before us - of topical relevance and utterly compelling. Yet the emotional resonance evoked among viewers is still further enhanced by gaining an insight into the details surrounding the origin of this piece.
A preparatory section made of plaster belonging to the Güstrow estate contains the seeds of this later version. It depicts a woman holding a baby in her arms, the pair enclosed within a protective space, resembling a cored half of a walnut shell. On closer study, this preliminary piece reveals on the left-hand side the incipient outlines of the subsequent feet and bent back, allowing us to trace Berlach's intriguing path to the final conception of the group of three figures.
Barlach endeavours successfully to articulate the essence of the statement – as demonstrated by a thematically-related charcoal drawing - by stripping away extraneous elements. Thus in the sketch he omits the grazing saddled mount to the left of the trio, and he smooths over the bellowing folds of the woman's garment to generate a timeless presence. He positions the group on a flattened, rounded mound of earth (known in North German dialect as a "Bült"), creating for them an isolated sphere of action. That distinguishes this bronze from the smaller-format variation of the motif in "Rest on the Flight I"; where the group is sited on flatter terrain.
The impact of this sculpture lies in its universally applicable message: It is in no way confined to the episode from Christ's childhood when the holy family fled to Egypt, which has become part of the Christian tradition.
Of course, the male figure is easily identifiable as Joseph. Yet, although in art-historic terms, this group has formed part of the canon of European motifs since the 15th century, it ranges further afield. At first glance, the overall sculpture appears to depict an idyllic scene, but this ostensible tranquillity is deceptive: For we are witnessing a moment's repose on the family's flight to safety. Three involuntary travellers seeking refuge in a foreign land as their last means of survival.
By enveloping the mother and child in a vast blanket, the man is providing a moment of comfort and safety. In later times, several of Barlach's works found such zones of protection within medieval architecture, as demonstrated, for example, by his "War Memorial" in the Gothic conch in Magdeburg Cathedral or by the clinker-brick figures of his "Community of Saints" in the niches of Lübeck's St. Catherine's Church.
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