The Holy Family fled to Egypt because Saint Joseph had been warned in a dream that Herod wanted to kill the Christ Child. New Testament (Matthew 2: 13-15). Here, they are shown resting on the journey, close to a waterfall. The rest on the flight is not described in the Bible, yet it was a very popular subject in European painting. The apple Joseph is holding refers to the original sin of Adam and Eve, from which Christ, as the new saviour, will redeem mankind.
Lastman was the leading painter of biblical and mythological subjects in Amsterdam in the early 17th century and the teacher of Rembrandt and Jan Lievens. In this important dated work the landscape is more extensive than is usual in his biblical scenes: it displays his study of the landscapes of Adam Elsheimer (1578 - 1610) and his contemporary Jacob Pynas (born about 1585; died after 1648), whose works are represented in the National Gallery's Collection.
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