National Gallery of Art - THE COLLECTION
image of The Rest on the Flight into Egypt Gerard David (artist)
Netherlandish, c. 1460 - 1523
The Rest on the Flight into Egypt, c. 1510
oil on panel
painted surface: 41.9 x 42.2 cm (16 1/2 x 16 5/8 in.) overall (panel): 44.3 x 44.9 cm (17 7/16 x 17 11/16 in.) framed: 69.2 x 54.6 cm (27 1/4 x 21 1/2 in.)
Andrew W. Mellon Collection
On View
From the Tour: The Netherlands and France in the 1500s
Object 3 of 8

Gerard David, the last great artist in Bruges, painted with the gentle mood and style of an earlier generation. In that sense he held to a tradition that was already being abandoned in more “modern” cities such as Antwerp. In other respects, however, especially in his innovative use of symbols and sensitive treatment of the landscape, David was quite progressive.

These qualities are apparent in this small panel of the Holy Family’s flight into Egypt. The quiet and peaceful scenery shares prominence with the tender image of the Virgin and Child, suggesting narrative elements of the story and amplifying their meaning. At the right, Joseph beats chestnuts from a tree. In northern Europe at this time, the chestnut was a staple in the diet. This image was familiar from manuscripts, which often illustrated their calendars with labors appropriate to each month, including nut gathering in October and November. David substituted the chestnut for the more exotic date palms that usually figure in the story. They were said to have bent to offer their fruit to the hungry family.

In the foreground, each carefully painted plant would have been recognized by contemporary viewers as a symbol that enhanced the meaning of the scene. Violets, for example, underscore the Virgin’s humility. The plantain, which stanches blood, alludes to Christ’s death, and the grapes Jesus holds suggest the wine of the communion.

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