Wednesday, January 25, 2017

The Rest on the Flight into Egypt, Part III of 3

Henri Mauperche, Rest on the Flight into Egypt
French, 1671
Paris, Musée du Louvre
In my two previous essays on the Rest on the Flight into Egypt, Parts I and II, we looked at most of the ways in which artists chose to depict the subject over the centuries.  One category of works remains, however, which is a little different from them.  Many of the works reviewed in the first two articles could, except for the presence in many of them of angelic guides, or messengers, or helpers, be simply pictures of a little family of three reposing during a long journey.  To be sure, some had references to the Biblical story or a great deal of religious symbolism worked in.  However, without knowing what to look for such references and symbolism could easily be overlooked.  But there is one final category in which it would be impossible to misunderstand the nature of the family depicted.

Adoration of the Christ Child

The final category that I found in my searches is the subject of the adoration of the Christ Child.  In these images it is most frequently angels who bow down before the Child in postures of adoration.  However, Mary and Joseph also perform the same actions.  It is somewhat similar to the adoration of the newborn Jesus, but it clearly occurs on the road to Egypt. 

Fra Bartolomeo, The Rest on the Flight into Egypt
Italian, c.1500
Pienza, Palazzo Vescovile

Pieter Coecke van Aelst, The Rest on Flight into Egypt
Flemish, c.1530-1540
Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum

Annibale Carracci, The Rest on Flight into Egypt
Italian, c.1604
St. Petersburg, State Hermitage Museum

Guido Reni, St. Joseph Adoring the Infant Jesus
Italian, c. 1620s
St. Petersburg, State Hermitage Museum
Clearly this is set on the Flight.  In the right background Mary can be seen seated and attended by an angel.

Giovanni Battista Gaulli, The Virgin Mary
Adoring the Infant Jesus
Italian, 1700
Cardiff, National Museum of Wales
Also set on the Flight.  Joseph can be seen in the right background tending to the donkey.

Sebastiano Ricci, Holy Family with Angels, Rest on the Flight into Egypt
Italian, c.1700
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo, Rest on the Flight into Egypt
Italian, c. 1752-1753
Budapest, Szépmûvészeti Múzeum

Philipp Otto Runge, Rest on the Flight into Egypt
German, c. 1805-1806
Hamburg, Hamburger Kunsthalle

Franz Ittenbach, Rest on the Flight into Egypt
German, 1868
Berlin, Nationalgalerie der Staatlichen Museen zu Berlin

Four of these images stand out particularly.  All come from the century between the latter part of the seventeenth century and the late eighteenth century and are all the work of Italian painters. 

The earliest, by Giuseppe Bartolomeo Chiari, looks quite similar to some of the scenes in which angels offer fruit or flowers to the Child.  A kneeling angel offers a basket laden with objects to the Child Jesus, who is seated on Mary’s lap.  He has already removed two objects from the basket.  One is a small wooden cross, which He holds in His right hand.  The other is a nail, which He holds in His left.  

Giuseppe Bartolomeo Chiari, Rest on Flight into Egypt
with Instruments of the Passion
Italian, c.1675
Derbyshire (UK), Calke Abbey, National Trust

Looking carefully at the basket one can make out some of the other objects.  There are more nails, a whip and something spikey.  What the angel offers is not fruit or flowers, but the instruments of the Passion.  It is a rather shocking reminder of what the adult life of this Baby refugee would entail.  And the eager acceptance by the Child of the cross and nail foreshadow the obedient acceptance of His suffering by the adult Jesus.

The next picture is by Martino Altomonte and depicts angels adoring the Holy Family, who are positioned on the steps of a classical building.  One of the pyramids can be seen in the background.  Jesus, shown as a little boy rather than a baby, stands in front of the protective arms of Saint Joseph, while Mary sits on a slightly lower step.  

Martino Altomonte, Rest on the Flight into Egypt
Austrian, 1737
Ljubljana, Narodna Gelerija Slovenije

Above them, in the sky, is a glory of clouds and angels surrounding God the Father who leans upon the globe of the world and points downward to where the dove of the Holy Spirit hovers above the earthly scene.  

This is an incorporation of the iconographic type called The Two Trinities, of which the central figure is Jesus, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity and the cause of the earthly Holy Family.  It also stresses St. Joseph's role in the earthly family as the human stand in for the Heavenly Father.

The third picture is by Pompeo Batoni.  It shows the sleeping Mother and Child, seated on a portion of a ruined building.  Jesus holds a small cross in His hand.  He is cradled by Mary, who is also asleep, watched over by Saint Joseph.  At the right of the picture are two angels, one with hands crossed in adoration, the other swinging a thurible and incensing the sleeping Mother and Child, just as the consecrated Host is incensed during Mass. 

Pompeo Batoni, Rest on the Flight into Egypt
Italian, c.1740-1749
Dundee, Dundee Art Galleries and Museums Collection (Dundee City Council)

The final picture makes the connection with the Eucharist even clearer.  This is a picture by Corrado Giaquinto, painted in 1764 as part of a series of scenes from the life of Mary for the sacristy at the church of the Franciscan Minims of San Luigi di Palazzo, the royal monastery in Naples, and now in the Detroit Institute of Art.1

Corrado Giaquinto. Rest on the Flight into Egypt
Italian, c. 1764-1765
Detroit, Institute of Arts

A slightly different variation, probably a preparatory sketch, is in a private collection and can give a simpler version of the scene.  

Corrado Giaquinto, Rest on the Flight into Egypt
Italian, ca. 1764
Private Collection
At the center of the picture Mary holds the Child (a toddler in this instance) to support Him as He stands on a slab which bears a resemblance to an altar in a church.  With her right hand she gestures to Him with the same gesture used in the Hodegetria type of image for the Mary as Mother of God, "She who shows the Way".2

Behind Him angels hold up a fringed white cloth of state that itself bears a resemblance to an altar covering. The cloth cuts off our view of the background and focuses our attention on the figure of the Child. An indication of a radiance, emanating from Him, is suggestive of a sunburst monstrance, a type of receptacle in which the consecrated Host is displayed to the faithful for Eucharistic Adoration.  Angels kneel at the left side of the painting, their gaze fixed on the Holy Child. One of them holds a thurible, ready to incense the Child, just as the Host in the monstrance is incensed during Adoration. Saint Joseph kneels in adoration at the right side of the painting. The reference to Eucharistic Adoration could hardly be clearer.3

An example of a sunburst monstrance for adoration of the Blessed Sacrament is that of my home parish of Saint Jean Baptiste on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.  Made in France by Paul Demarquet of Demarquet Freres of Paris.  The figure below the sunburst is that of Saint John the Baptist, herald of Christ and patron saint of the parish.
Paul Demarquet, Monstrance
French, c. 1910-1930
New York, Church of Saint Jean Baptiste

Thus we can see that it is with good reason that so many images of the Rest on the Flight into Egypt were produced over the centuries, as the image can carry so many diverse meanings.

Nicholas Mynheer, Rest on the Flight into Egypt
English, 2003
Oxford (UK), Brookes University

© M. Duffy, 2017
  1. See Irene Cioffi, “Corrado Giaquinto's ‘Rest on the Flight into Egypt’", Bulletin of the Detroit Institute of Arts, Vol. 58, No. 1 (1980), pp. 4-13.
  2.  See:
  3. See:  and

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