La fuga in Egitto (c.1515)

Carpaccio, Vittore (c.1460-c.1526)

La fuga in Egitto (The Flight into Egypt)
Oil on panel, 72 x 111 cm
National Gallery of ArtWashington

Joseph, Mary, and her newborn son, Jesus, have fled Bethlehem and are on the road to Egypt. They are escaping from King Herod, who wanted the child killed. Rather than focus on their urgent flight, Carpaccio shows the Holy Family mid-journey, their pace unhurried. Joseph urges the plodding donkey onward and looks back caringly at Mary and the child. The setting is tranquil, with dawn breaking over a lush landscape and a meandering river. This story tapped into the growing popularity in sixteenth-century Venice of Saint Joseph as an ideal father. It also enabled Carpaccio to showcase his talent for depicting textures, from the donkey’s fuzzy fur to Mary’s almost metallic cloak. Such a family subject would have been appropriate for display in the home. Close to us, a bearded, balding man leads a donkey carrying a woman and child to our right against a hilly landscape in this horizontal painting. All three people have pale, peachy skin and halos. The man has a gray beard and hair, and wears a royal-blue tunic under a ruby-red robe. He leans on a walking stick and looks back at the donkey. The woman riding the donkey wears a blue and gold brocade-like cloak covering her head and body. She has a straight nose, small pink lips, and she looks toward the infant she holds close to her body. The baby wears a white garment and reaches for the woman’s face with one hand as he turns to look over his shoulder toward us. The path they walk on is lined with grass and detailed plants. A river runs parallel to the path a short distance away. The horizon line comes about two-thirds of the way up the painting is lined with green trees, blue mountains, and a few buildings to our left. Wispy white clouds sweep across an azure-blue sky streaked with peach near the horizon. (NGA)