The short biblical account of the Flight into Egypt (Matt. 2:13–14) was elaborated upon by Early Christian and medieval theologians. In one of these apocryphal legends, the weary family paused during their journey after three days of travel. The Virgin longed for food, but the date–palm branches were too high for Joseph to pick any fruit. Thereupon Jesus commanded the tree to lower its branches. David deemphasized this miracle by giving Joseph a sturdy stick and by replacing the date palm with a Flemish chestnut tree, but a sixteenth–century audience would have remembered the apocryphal story. There are also indications of the special significance of the family: the Madonna wears robes in her symbolic colors of red and blue; fine rays of golden light emanate from the mother's head and that of the child; and the bunch of grapes held by the Madonna is a well–known symbol of the Eucharist.
David created a mood of calm equilibrium. The Madonna and Child are centrally placed, while receding diagonals and alternating bands of light and dark skillfully lead back into the landscape and harmoniously relate the figures to their surroundings. The predominance of the restful color blue throughout the composition unifies the work. All in all, The Rest on the Flight into Egypt is one of Gerard David's loveliest and most peaceful creations.
Marks and Labels
Acquired c. 1845 by The Rev. Montague Taylor [d. 1896], London; (sale, Christie, Manson & Woods, London, 19 May 1897, no. 152). (P. & D. Colnaghi and Co., London). acquired March 1898 by Rodolphe Kann [d. 1905], Paris; acquired 1907 from the Kann estate by (Duveen Brothers, Inc., London, New York, and Paris). J. Pierpont Morgan, Sr. [1837-1913], New York, acquired c. 1908. (M. Knoedler & Co., New York); purchased December 1935 by The A.W. Mellon Educational and Charitable Trust, Pittsburgh; gift 1937 to NGA.
- On loan to The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1911-1916, no cat.
- Fiftieth Anniversary Exhibition, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1920, unnumbered catalogue.
- Paintings and Sculpture Owned in Washington, Phillips Memorial Gallery, Washington, D.C., 1937, no. 7.
- From Van Eyck to Bruegel: Early Netherlandish Painting in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1998-1999, fig. 99.
- Bode, Wilhelm von. Gemälde-sammlung des Herrn Rudolf Kann in Paris. Vienna, 1900: xxx, pl. 83.
- Helbig, Jules. "Joachim Patenier." Reuve de l'art chrétien 11 (1900): pl. 8.
- Michel, Émile. "La Galerie de M. Rodolphe Kann." Gazette des Beaux-Arts 25 (1901): 498.
- Marguillier, Auguste. "La Collection de M. Rodolphe Kann." Les Arts (January, 1903): 4 repro.
- Bodenhausen, Eberhard Freiherr von. Gerard David und seine Schule. Munich, 1905: 186-188.
- Bode, Wilhelm von. Catalogue of the Rodolphe Kann Collection. Paris, 1907: 1, xxxi; 2, 7, repro. 6.
- Nicolle, Marcel. "La Collection Rodolphe Kann." Revue de l'Art Ancien et Moderne 23 (1908): 193.
- Catalogue of the Paintings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1911: 1905; Addenda: not paignated.
- Burroughs, Bryson. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Catalogue of Paintings. New York, 1914: 61 (also 1916 ed.: 66).
- Friedländer, Max J. Von Eyck bis Bruegel. Berlin, 1916: 181.
- Ivins, W.M. Jr. "Pictures Lent for the Fiftieth Anniversary Exhibition." Bulletin of The Metropolitan Museum of Art 15 (August, 1920): 189.
- Conway, Martin. The Van Eycks and Their Followers. London, 1921: 350-351.
- Friedländer, Max. Die altniederländische Malerei. 14 vols. Berlin and Leiden, 1924-1937. Berlin, 1934: 6:155, no. 214. (English transl. 14 vols. Leiden, 1967-1976. Leiden, 1971: 6, pt. 2:no. 214, pl. 217.)
- "Twenty Masterpieces at Messrs. Knoedler's." The Burlington Magazine 66 (1935): 299, frontispiece.
- Jewell, Edward Alden. "Mellon's Gift." Magazine of Art 30, no. 2 (February 1937): 73.
- De Tolnay, Charles. "Flemish Painting in the National Gallery of Art." Magazine of Art 34 (1941): 182-185, fig. 12.
- Held, Julius S. "Masters of Northern Europe, 1430-1660, in the National Gallery." Art News 40, no. 8 (June 1941): 12.
- Preliminary Catalogue of Paintings and Sculpture. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1941: 53-54, no. 43.
- Book of Illustrations. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1942: 240, repro. 37.
- Cairns, Huntington, and John Walker, eds., Masterpieces of Painting from the National Gallery of Art. New York, 1944: 88, color repro.
- L. J. Roggeveen. "De National Gallery of Art te Washington." Phoenix 4, no. 12 (December 1949): 340.
- Paintings and Sculpture from the Mellon Collection. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1949 (reprinted 1953 and 1958): 56, repro.
- Shapley, Fern Rusk. Comparisons in Art: A Companion to the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC. London, 1957 (reprinted 1959): pl. 25
- Broadley Hugh T. Flemish Painting in the National Gallery of Art (Booklet no. 5 in Ten Schools of Painting in the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC). Washington, 1960: 42, color repro. on cover.
- The National Gallery of Art and Its Collections. Foreword by Perry B. Cott and notes by Otto Stelzer. National Gallery of Art, Washington (undated, 1960s): 10.
- Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. New York, 1963 (reprinted 1964 in French, German, and Spanish): 104, repro.
- Summary Catalogue of European Paintings and Sculpture. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1965: 38.
- Cairns, Huntington, and John Walker, eds. A Pageant of Painting from the National Gallery of Art. 2 vols. New York, 1966: 1:88-89, color repro.
- Cuttler, Charles D. Northern Painting, from Pucelle to Bruegel: Fourteenth, Fifteenth, and Sixteenth Centuries. New York, 1968: 195-196, fig. 245.
- European Paintings and Sculpture: Illustrations (Companion to the Summary Catalogue, 1965). Washington, 1968: 31, no. 43, repro.
- Cooke, Hereward Lester. The National Gallery of Art in Washington. Munich and Ahrbeck/Hanover, 1970: 68-69, color fig. 31.
- Bermejo, Elisa. "Nuevas Pinturas de Adrian Isenbrant." Archivo Español de Arte y Arqueologia 48 (1975): 16.
- European Paintings: An Illustrated Summary Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1975: 94, repro.
- Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. New York, 1975: 132, repro. 133.
- Dufey-Haeck, Marie-Louise. "Le Thème du repos pendant la fuite en Egypte dans la peinture flamande de la seconde moitié du XVe au milieu du XVIe siècle." Revue Belge d'Archéologie et d'Histoire de l'Art 48 (1979): 54, 53, fig. 2.
- Watson, Ross. The National Gallery of Art, Washington. New York, 1979: 54, color pl. 36.
- Mundy, E. James. "Gerard David's Rest on the Flight into Egypt: further additions to grape symbolism." Simiolus 12 (1981-1982): 211-222, figs. 1-3.
- Abrams, Richard I. and Warner A. Hutchinson. An Illustrated Life of Jesus, From the National Gallery of Art Collection. Nashville, 1982: 56-57, color repro.
- Wilson, Jean. "Adriaen Isenbrant Reconsidered: The Making and Marketing of Art in Sixteenth-Century Bruges." Ph.D. dissertation, The Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, 1983: 51-52, 60-64, 212-213, pl. 66.
- Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Rev. ed. New York, 1984: 132, no. 124, color repro.
- European Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1985: 116, repro.
- Snyder, James. Northern Renaissance Art: Painting, Sculpture, the Graphic Arts from 1350-1575. New York, 1985: 192, fig. 189.
- Hand, John Oliver and Martha Wolff. Early Netherlandish Painting. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, 1986: 63-68, repro. 65.
- National Gallery of Art. National Gallery of Art, Washington. New York, 1992: 44, repro.
- Vos, Dirk de. "David, Gerhard." In The Dictionary of Art. Edited by Jane Turner. 34 vols. New York and London, 1996: 8:553.
- Nissen, Ricarda. Ich Komme zu dir, 1997, p. 42, repro.
- From Van Eyck to Bruegel: Early Netherlandish Painting in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Edited by Maryan W. Ainsworth and Keith Christiansen. Exh. cat. Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1998. New York, 1998: 308-311, fig. 99. (NGA painting was not in the exhibition.)
- Gibson, Sarah S. and Alicia Craig Faxon. "Journey/Flight." In Encyclopedia of Comparative Iconography: Themes Depicted in Works of Art, edited by Helene E. Roberts. 2 vols. Chicago, 1998: 1:446.
- Hand, John Oliver. National Gallery of Art: Master Paintings from the Collection. Washington and New York, 2004: ii, 122-123, no. 92, color repros.
- Snyder, James. Northern Renaissance Art: Painting, Sculpture, the Graphic Arts from 1350 to 1575. Revised by Larry Silver and Henry Luttikhuizen. Upper Saddle River, 2005: 213, col. fig. 10.27.
The painting is in very good condition, with only small scattered areas of repaint. There are faint remains of gold halos behind the heads of the Christ Child and the Virgin. The Virgin's robe was originally larger at the lower left, as can be seen in infrared photographs and with the naked eye. Examination with infrared reflectography reveals underdrawing in what appears to be brush in the blue robe of the Madonna. Restored 1984/1985.