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Guercino, 'Elijah fed by Ravens', 1620

Key facts
Full title Elijah fed by Ravens
Artist Guercino
Artist dates 1591 - 1666
Date made 1620
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 195 × 156.5 cm
Acquisition credit Bought, 2009
Inventory number NG6612
Location Room 32
Collection Main Collection
Elijah fed by Ravens

The monumental figure in this painting is Elijah, an Old Testament prophet who lived in Israel in the ninth century BC. Having predicted that a terrible drought would ravage the land, Elijah was instructed by God to hide by the stream Cherith. Here, ravens delivered bread and meat to him every morning and evening.

While Elijah’s story embodies piety, Guercino’s representation is profoundly human. The prophet sits awkwardly, his aged face turned expectantly toward the birds above him; they represent both physical and spiritual nourishment as Elijah places his faith in God’s commands. A bowl lies empty at his feet and his clothing is torn at the shoulder – reminders of his hunger and hardship in the wilderness.

This is one of two paintings Guercino made in 1620 for the papal legate of Ferrara, Cardinal Jacopo Serra, an early and enthusiastic patron of the artist.

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