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The Star of the Levant

The mysterious paintings of Giorgione

[The Bishop] receives us in the cool air of a large room, shaded by blue curtains that black out the windows, which serves as his office and sitting room. The heavy wooden furniture gives off a pleasant fragrance of wax. Two copies of the famous mysterious paintings by Giorgione (1), The Tempest (2) and The Three Philosophers (3), and a beautiful 15th-century Persian miniature representing Muhammad and the Angel Gabriel adorn the white walls. […]

While we are having tea before visiting the monastery, I ask the Monsignore about his interpretation of his two copies of the Giorgione paintings, whose subject matter has always been a mystery for art connoisseurs and experts.

His explanation of The Tempest is astoundingly obvious: it’s the story of Hagar and her son Ishmael (the naked woman and child – as they were stripped of their rights – to the right of the painting) driven out of the clan of Abraham (the “father of two great nations,” symbolized by the trunk of a tree divided into two vertical branches) at the request of his wife Sarah (who is present under a repainted area and had been revealed by a X-ray exam.

And The Three Philosophers? That’s elementary: from the right to the left, they are Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, next to the cave of Machpelah in Hebron!

The meaning of the numerous allegorical clues accumulated by the artist in each of these works indeed becomes completely transparent… when we know the answer to the mystery. […]

Extracts from chapter 16
A spiritual encounter in Sinai