The Rest on the Flight into Egypt, c. 1572
Paolo Caliari (called Veronese and Workshop of)
oil on canvas
165 x 264.2 cm; frame: 204.5 x 305 x 10 cm
National Gallery of Canada (no. 4268)
After being warned by an angel of King Herod’s massacre of newborn children in Bethlehem, Mary, Joseph and the infant Christ flee to nearby Egypt. The family rest at an oasis, the site of Christ’s first miracle, where he causes the date palms to give up their fruit and water to erupt from the ground. Ever practical in the depiction of supernatural events, Paolo Veronese shows Joseph fetching the water, while an angel has picked dates. The angel’s robe has slits at the back to accommodate his beautiful and anatomically accurate wings. The infant selflessly turns away from his mother’s breast to check that his family is taken care of, and the animals bow down in recognition. To the right is their destination, Egypt, indicated by the needle-like obelisk and the fanciful architecture on the banks of the river Nile. The sky threatens a storm and provides a cause for the family to be seeking shelter and for the animation of the palm trees, which in less reasonable depictions of the episode are often shown bending to allow access to their fruit. The ruined arch and blocks of stone Mary is seated upon symbolise the fall of the pagan Roman Empire before Christianity.
The painting is likely to be from the early 1570s and closely related to another work by Paolo of the same subject now in the Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota, Florida. Both paintings share their genesis in a crowded sheet of loose studies (in The Cleveland Museum of Art, Ohio). Ideas from this sheet would have been worked up in more descriptive drawn studies, one of which is in the display case nearby. The painting was likely produced with the assistance of members of the workshop: the initial drawing of Mary and the infant Christ on the prepared canvas may have been done by Paolo’s brother Benedetto, from Paolo’s drawings. This was due in part to the demand for Paolo’s production at this stage of his career and was normal practice at the time. Paolo would have been present for much of the painting and would have executed parts of it - likely Mary’s face, Christ, and the angel, among other elements.