The Flight into Egypt

 
Artist
Creation date
Materials
oil on canvas
Mark Descriptions
inscribed on stone, bottom center (partially illegible): CLAV... IN...
Dimensions
28 x 38-1/2 in.
Credit line
The Clowes Collection
Accession number
2003.171
Collection
Currently On View In
William L. and Jane H. Fortune Gallery - H214

Claude was in his early thirties when he painted this picture. He had long since left his native Lorraine and established himself in Rome as a painter of landscapes, a newly emerging genre. His views of the Roman countryside were admired for their golden light and sensitive rendering of atmospheric effects.

This work represents the flight of the Holy Family into Egypt to escape Herod's persecution. The peacefulness of the setting provides a sharp contrast to the violent massacre they have fled. The infant Jesus holds the donkey's reins, a precocious action that may symbolize his divine nature and the role of providence in the family's safekeeping.

Provenance Research is on-going at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, and information will be added to this record as research is completed. Please contact Annette Schlagenhauff, Assoc. Curator of Research, at aschlagenhauff@imamuseum.org with any questions.
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Indianapolis Museum of Art: Highlights of the Collection (2005)

Claude Gellée was trained as a pastry chef in Lorraine, France. Orphaned at age twelve, Claude traveled to Rome, where he found work as a painter’s servant. By the time he was twenty-seven years old, Claude was established in Rome as a painter of landscapes, a newly emerging genre.

Claude’s landscapes found great favor among Rome’s land-owning nobility, who appreciated his ability to combine the actual characteristics of the Roman countryside with idealized, poetic evocations. To achieve the realistic aspects of his landscapes, Claude ventured into the malaria-ridden campagna and made ink sketches that boldly capture the effects of sunlight at different hours, under various atmospheric conditions. Back in his studio, he enhanced these with a repertoire of motifs, including classical temples, shepherds and travelers, and full-canopied trees towering in the middle ground. Drama and grandeur enter the compositions by means of distant horizons, surprising—but not irrational—shifts in scale, and pooling areas of sunlight.

This work, dating from Claude’s early career, represents Mary, Joseph, and the Christ child going into Egypt to escape Herod’s persecution in Bethlehem. The peacefulness of the pastoral setting provides a sharp contrast to the violent massacre in the city they have fled. The infant Jesus holds the donkey’s reins, a precocious action that may symbolize his divine nature, and the role of providence in the family’s safekeeping.