The Rest on the Flight into Egypt (1655-57) Poussin, Nicolas (1594-1665)
The French painter Nicholas Poussin spent much of his career in Rome. His work much sought after by Monarchs, Popes and the aristocracy throughout Europe are notable for the clarity of composition and a treatment of figures and surroundings that evokes the measured grandeur of the classical past. His Rest on the Flight into Egypt, infuses this charming story with a classical calm more typical of a scene from Roman history. This apocryphal story became popular in the years following the Council of Trent (1543-1565). According to the legend the Virgin, exhausted after the flight from Herod asks Joseph to stop in order to rest and eat. At first it seems there is no food or water. However, a spring miraculously appears and an angel helps Joseph gather dates from a nearby palm-tree. In Poussin’s interpretation of the story our attention focuses on the Virgin and Child in the centre of the painting. The strong light which falls upon the mother and child unite the pair so that their forms anchor the scene both physically and spiritually. Jesus reaches towards the plate of dates, the child’s eager gesture appears to delight his young mother. Poussin eschews traditional divine figures like angels, instead a young boy offers food to Mary and Jesus. Together with Poussin’s emphasis on the natural world, the artist enriched his compositions with scenes which evoked the world of the pagan past. The procession which moves from right to left in the background features priests bringing an offering to be presented before the steps of a temple.
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