We are closed as a precautionary measure to help contain the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19). Find out more
In this fantastical landscape, the holy family – the Virgin Mary, Joseph and Christ – pause on their journey beside a derelict Roman temple. Among crumbling columns and fragmented archways, niches with antique statues and carved reliefs remain intact. The Virgin gives Christ some figs as a symbol of her virtue and fertility. Joseph rests against a stone altar.
The family have fled to Egypt to escape persecution by Herod, who had ordered the execution of all babies born in Bethlehem. The Flight into Egypt is mentioned in the Gospel of Matthew, although the ‘rest’ we see here relates to a later version of the story.
Patel ignored many of the details in the later legend. Here, Mary and Christ are shaded by an oak tree rather than the palm tree described in the story. An undamaged marble statue of a goddess stands in a niche to the right, but according to the legend when the family entered the temple at Sotina all the idols fell off the altar.
In this fantastical setting, the holy family pause on their journey beside a derelict Roman temple. Among crumbling columns and fragmented archways, niches with antique statues and sculpted bas-reliefs remain intact.
The Virgin Mary gives some figs to Christ as a symbol of her virtue and fertility, while Joseph rests against a stone altar or Roman sarcophagus. Placing the scene among these classical ruins symbolises the collapse of ancient Roman paganism and the triumph of Catholicism.
The family have fled to Egypt to escape persecution by Herod, who had ordered the execution of all babies born in Bethlehem. The Flight into Egypt is referred to in the Gospel of Matthew (2: 13–15) although the ‘rest’ we see here relates to a later, more elaborate Latin version of the story (Evangelium 21–22). Like other painters, Patel ignored many of the details in the later legend. This narrative describes the holy family sheltering from the sun under a palm tree, but the Virgin and Christ here are partially shaded by an oak tree – although several palm trees are positioned nearby to show that this scene takes place in Egypt. To the right, an undamaged marble statue of a goddess is positioned within a niche, but according to the legend when the family entered the temple at Sotina all the idols fell off the altar.
Patel probably never visited Italy, but here he recreates the countryside around Rome – the Roman Campagna. The landscape was probably inspired by the work of Patel’s celebrated contemporary, Claude, who spent many years in Rome. The ruins may show the impact of Claude’s Seaport with the Embarkation of the Queen of Sheba and Ulysses restituting Chryseis to Chryses (Louvre, Paris), both of which probably arrived in Paris some years before Patel painted this. As in Claude’s work, precise architectural drawing is used to create perspective, and the arrangement of archways and columns lead our eye into the distance.
The composition is painted in a classical style: the landscape is ordered and balanced with trees and ruined buildings framing the scene. The mountains and buildings in the background are shown as blue, reflecting the way that atmospheric effects alter the way we perceive colours in a distant landscape – a phenomenon known as aerial perspective.
Download a low-resolution copy of this image for personal use.
License and download a high-resolution image for reproductions up to A3 size from the National Gallery Picture Library.
This image is licensed for non-commercial use under a Creative Commons agreement.
Examples of non-commercial use are:
The image file is 800 pixels on the longest side.
As a charity, we depend upon the generosity of individuals to ensure the collection continues to engage and inspire. Help keep us free by making a donation today.
You must agree to the Creative Commons terms and conditions to download this image.