National Gallery of Art - THE COLLECTION
image of Elijah Fed by the Raven Giovanni Girolamo Savoldo (artist)
Brescian, c. 1480 - 1548 or after
Elijah Fed by the Raven, c. 1510
oil on panel transferred to canvas
overall: 168 x 135.6 cm (66 1/8 x 53 3/8 in.) framed: 199.1 x 166.2 x 8.6 cm (78 3/8 x 65 7/16 x 3 3/8 in.)
Samuel H. Kress Collection
On View
From the Tour: Venice and the North
Object 5 of 6

Elijah, sturdy and peasantlike, looks with reflective intensity at a black bird perched above his head, grasping a large hunk of bread in its beak. The word of the Lord had come to him (I Kings 17:3-4): "Go away from here, go eastward, and hide yourself....I have ordered the ravens to bring you food." It was an absolute act of faith and love to obey the command, trusting only in God's provision for his survival.

From the earliest days of Christian monasticism, Elijah was regarded as the prototype of all those who "dwelt in the desert," either alone as hermits or in communities with other holy men. In the living tradition of monasticism, the authority and spiritual wisdom of one abbot is passed down to the next. This transfer of power began when Elijah first handed his cloak to his successor Elisha, an episode depicted in the background of this painting. In a small cloud, Elijah is taken heavenward in a fiery chariot as proof of God's call.

This painting, along with a companion work showing the two hermit saints Anthony and Paul, was possibly commissioned for a Carmelite church in Savoldo's hometown of Brescia. Elijah held special significance for the Carmelites, who, as their name suggests, traced their origin to Elijah in the Jordan valley. The faith and moral austerity of these men could have appealed to many other patrons as well.

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