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Denys Calvaert (Attributed)
(Flemish, ca. 1510–1619)
Flight into Egypt
ca. 1580
oil on copper, 17" x 13 3/8"

Flight into Egypt illustrates the New Testament story of Joseph leading his family from Nazareth to Egypt to escape the search for the infant Christ ordered by Herod, King of Judea. Many other paintings of this biblical story picture the Holy family at rest or en route, yet this work uniquely depicts the trio at the very moment they are about to resume their journey. As Joseph steadies the ass she will ride, the Virgin gazes protectively down at the infant Christ, who is being handed to her by a kneeling angel. In keeping with this particular biblical story, Calvaert included a host of symbolic elements, which first appeared in Albrecht Durer’s engraving of the subject in 1511. The ox and ass refer to the Nativity, the palms to an early miracle in which the infant Christ supplied food to hungry travelers by causing a palm to bend down its branches.

This small work is considered to be among the finest examples of Calvaert’s paintings on copper. Its brilliance of color and clarity of detail are due in part to the artist’s use of this sturdy support, which many painters from the 16th–18th centuries used as an alternative to wood or canvas, and also to his northern European training, which stressed the use of minute detail, brilliant color and a crisp, sharply defined mode of depiction. Born and trained in Antwerp, Calvaert later moved to Italy, where he established an academy in Bologna around 1575. There he was credited with introducing Flemish qualities and a more rigorous academic study of anatomy and perspective to Italian painting of the period, and as a result his work provides an important link between the Mannerist and Baroque styles of painting. Among his pupils in Italy were the important Baroque artists Guido Reni, Guercino, Domenichino, and Francisco Albani.

 
 
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