The Rest on the Flight into Egypt

by Paolo Veronese, Italian 1528-1588
SN 82, Oil on Canvas

by Robert Anderson.

Paolo Veronese was one of the most gifted painters of his generation in Venice. He was influenced decisively by Titian, taking Titian's grand classicism as his point of departure while retaining a north Italian devotion to nature. Veronese's contribution to the Venetian tradition was to fuse Titian's use of color with Michelangelo's attention to design / line drawing into a decorative sumptuous pageantry.He was active in Venice for the greater part of his life where he became, with Tintoretto, the dominant figure in Venetian painting in the generation following Titian.

His distinctive style was developed early and he secured many commissions for both religious and secular paintings. He had a highly organized studio and his output was large both in number and in the size of his paintings. One of the greatest of all decorative artists - a supreme colorist - Veronese delighted in painting enormous pageant-like scenes. His painting style showed a harmonious balancing of forms and color to create a serenity for which he became celebrated. Veronese's most significent contribution to the art of portraiture was in the skillful and sensitive group portraits incorporated into biblical and votive paintings.

He painted on canvas as well as magnificent frescos for villas in the surroundings of Venice and is considered to be one of the great painters of the 16 th century. His works were prophetic of the development of the 17th century and his influence on Annibale Carracci, Rubens, Van Dyke, Pietro da Cortona and in particular, Tiepolo, was significant.

This subject is based upon the New Testament Gospel of Matthew 2: 13-15. Warned in a dream that Herod the King was searching for the infant Jesus to kill him, Joseph took him and his mother away to safety in Egypt where they remained until after Herod's death.

The bare statement given by Matthew was greatly amplified in various New Testament apocryphal texts which are the source of the themes found in art.

The rest on the flight was a popular theme in the art of the Counter Reformation and was more often of a devotional than a narrative character. In it the Virgin and Child along with Joseph are seated in a landscape, their belongings lie on the ground and they are assisted by angels who serve food. A palm tree, emblematic of the Christian martyr is part of the scene.

The Biblical account of the sojourn in Egypt is so brief that such an episode as the rest is not mentioned. The flight into Egypt was, in fact, the invention of Christian mythologists who were eager to expand on the few references to Jesus' early life.

The Rest on the Flight into Egypt is an enchanting product of Veronese's maturity. Dated to 1566-68 it accords with the spirit of other religious paintings of that period which have an expressive richness and visual splendor. The picture has the vivid colorism and dynamic composition that are the hallmarks of his style.

In this idyllic vision of the Holy Family at rest in the countryside, the Madonna, nursing her very human Christ child, anchors the composition while angels attending the Holy Family lend a festive and somewhat amusing air to the scene. They are shown gathering dates from the trees, curring the donkey and even doing the laundry. The humor of the scene is undercut, however, by the V shaped formation of branches over the Virgin's head which refers to Christ's crucifixtion.

The composition of the painting is thought to be based on Titian's Death of St. Peter Martyr from which Veronese took the V shaped trees and from Durer's The Flight into Egypt which had a similar donkey and lush tropical setting.

The canvas is joined on the center line of the painting and there are some some damages to be noted on the shoulders of Joseph and the Madonna. It was acquired by Ringling c.1925-26.

Historical Context:
The painting was done during the period of the Counter Reformation when the Council of Trent had dictated guidelines for religious art. Art was to inspire piety and a profound religious feeling. While Veronese was a man of faith, he did paint a humorous humanity into many of his religious pictures and was at times criticized by the Church and the Inquisition.

His love of richness and ornament in his painting got him into trouble with the Inquisition, at one point , who took him to task for his painting of The Last Supper into which he had crowded "irrelevant and irreverent" figures. He argued against a change to the painting but it was subsequently renamed The Feast in the House of Levi.