National Gallery Nativities
Flight into Egypt
After the wise men departed, the angel of the Lord returned to Joseph in a dream. He revealed Herod’s wicked plan to seek out the young child and kill him because Herod saw the child heralded as the new ‘King’ and a rival to his throne.
In this painting of the Flight into Egypt, Joseph is shown following the angel’s advice. In the background we see the head and torso of an old pagan statue falling to the ground, referring to the legend that statues of pagan idols crumbled as the holy family, representing a new religious era, passed.
Massacre of the innocents
Near the small houses in the background a more horrific breaking of real bodies is about to take place, the massacre of the innocents, a slaughter ordered by King Herod of all children under the age of two. We see the young children being taken from their distraught parents.
Herod had hoped in this way to ensure that the baby Jesus would be killed. Fortunately the child remains safe, cradled in the arms of Mary who suckles him, while Joseph, with provisions and a straw hat where a halo might be, leads his family to safety.