My Favourite Painting: Todd Longstaffe-Gowan

The landscape architect picks out a dramatic biblical image given new life by 'Il Fiammingo'.

Todd Longstaffe-Gowan on Miracle of the Quails by Pauwels Franck

‘This work is not a cheerful episode in the Exodus, but “Il Fiammingo” reimagines it with astonishing brilliance: he depicts the exiled Israelites in a state of exuberant jubilation as quails rain down from the sky, blissfully unaware that it is a punishment by God for their greed. Throngs reach heavenwards to grasp flying birds, others grovel to collect those strewn on the ground or prepare to feast on their roasted carcasses. Those acquainted with this parable know it does not end well for the gluttonous. This avian bacchanal reminds us that one never knows what lies around the corner.’

Todd Longstaffe-Gowan is a landscape architect. His new book, English Garden Eccentrics: Three Hundred Years of Extraordinary Groves, Burrowings, Mountains and Menageries, is out now.

Charlotte Mullins on Miracle of the Quails 

Flemish artist Pauwels Franck was known as Paolo Fiam-mingo, the Italian version of his name. By 1573, he was working in Tintoretto’s workshop in Venice as his assistant; he was largely responsible for Tintoretto’s Saint Roch in the Wilderness in the Church of San Rocco (1579–80). By 1580, at about the time the Miracle of the Quails was painted, Franck had established his own successful studio. He painted several series for the prominent German banker Hans Fugger and this painting may have come from such a series.

Here, Franck paints a scene from Exodus where God sends a flock of quails for the Israelites to eat as they crossed the wilderness on their journey from Egypt. Birds swoop over the camp and men, women and child-ren attempt to catch them with their bare hands. Moses appears on the left, pointing to the sky, as if explaining what is happening to his brother Aaron. Moses’s active body, walking into the picture, is mirrored by the youth who reaches up to capture a bird on the right.

Franck was known for his landscape prowess. Despite this being a painting of the Israelites in the wilderness, he includes mountains in the hazy distance and mature trees that flank the view. The leafy greens are echoed by the woman sitting in the centre of the composition and Moses’s tunic. The considered use of greens, blues and pinks throughout the work adds harmony to the dynamic scene.

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