National Gallery of Art - THE COLLECTION
image of The Flight into Egypt Vittore Carpaccio (painter)
Venetian, c. 1465 - 1525/1526
The Flight into Egypt, c. 1515
oil on panel
painted surface: 72 x 111 cm (28 3/8 x 43 11/16 in.) overall (including attached pieces): 74 x 113 cm (29 1/8 x 44 1/2 in.) framed: 122.9 x 160 cm (48 3/8 x 63 in.)
Andrew W. Mellon Collection
1937.1.28
On View
From the Tour: Venetian Painting in the Early Renaissance
Object 5 of 7

Mary and Joseph's flight with Jesus to escape Herod's slaughter of the Hebrew babies is recounted in the gospel of Matthew. The subject is often found on predellas, the small scenes at the base of altarpieces, but this painting is too large to be a predella panel. Nor is it likely to have been the central section of an altarpiece—those were usually meditative, devotional images rather than narrative ones like this. Perhaps it was made for a religious confraternity. Such scuole were among the most important patrons of Venetian painters. They commissioned Carpaccio's best-known works—large bustling scenes that are full of anecdotal detail and provide valuable information about life in Renaissance Venice. Here, the distant village and covered boat gliding past offer a hint of Carpaccio's delight in storytelling.

While Bellini began to use layered oil glazes to soften the edges of his forms, the younger Carpaccio continued to favor a harder (and increasingly old-fashioned) line. In this case, though, it enhances his narrative purpose: hard contours accentuate the gait of the ass and the long stride of Joseph, and they help frame the Virgin and Child in a way that almost enthrones them on their humble mount. In contrast, the luminous undersides of the clouds reveal the influence of Bellini's treatment of light.

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