Anno Domini

Anno Domini or The Flight into Egypt, 1883
Edwin Long (1829-1891)
Oil on canvas
BORGM 01344
Image © Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum

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Anno Domini (also known as Flight into Egypt)

Also known as The Flight into Egypt, Anno Domini shows the moment the Holy Family arrives in Egypt, as described in the New Testament. It was commissioned for the Lawrence Gallery in Bond Street, London. When exhibited there in 1883, it caused a sensation. It was on display to the public, for a fee, for many years and people queued to view the gigantic painting.

By the late 1870s a visit to Egypt and the Holy Land had become important for artists such as Edwin Long depicting antiquity, the Bible and the Orient. Anno Domini fits into the ‘orientalist’ way of seeing Egypt from a Western perspective. Merton’s substantial number of paintings by Long is a particular feature of our Collection.

We see the contrast between the humble Holy Family and the culturally different exotic, pagan world of Egypt. Anno Domini depicts fair-skinned Virgin Mary and Jesus Christ with darker skinned Joseph. They pass traders selling ‘shabtis’ (figurines placed in ancient Egyptian tombs) and Egyptians using good luck charms to heal a sick child. In the background is a procession of worshippers carrying a statue of the goddess Isis with her child Horus. In the distance, there is a monumental gateway to an Egyptian temple and the shapes of the pyramids in the glowing sunset.

Edwin Longsden Long was born in Bath, Somerset, the son of E. Long, an artist. He was educated at Dr. Viner’s School in Bath and then came to London and studied in the British Museum. He was subsequently a pupil in the school of James Mathews Leigh in Newman Street London, and practised first as a portrait artist, painting Charles Greville, Lord Ebury, Baroness Burdett Coutts, the Earl of Iddesleigh, Cardinal Manning and Sir Edmund Henderson and others.

Long made the acquaintance of John Phillip RA, and accompanied him to Spain, where they spent much time. Long was greatly influenced by the paintings of Velasquez and other Spanish masters, and his earlier pictures were painted under Spanish influence. In 1874 he visited Egypt and Syria, and subsequently his work took a new direction. He became thoroughly imbued with middle-eastern archaeology and painted oriental scenes. His very large historical and biblical subjects made him rich and successful.

Long was elected an associate of the Royal Academy in 1876 and an academician in 1881. The popularity of his works was enhanced by the wide circulation of engravings. This made him decide to exhibit his next pictures in a gallery of his own in Bond Street, London from 1883.

Long married a daughter of Dr. William Aiton, by whom he left a family, He died from pneumonia resulting from influenza, at his home in Hampstead, on 15 May 1891. He is buried in West Hampstead Cemetery.

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