Mary and the infant Christ on the donkey are being led on their nocturnal flight to Egypt by Joseph. They are fleeing from the massacre of all the male babies in Bethlehem organised by King Herod in his attempt to murder the infant Jesus. The souls of these babies, the Holy Innocents, accompany the Holy Family drawn along by mystic bubbles representing Jewish confidence in ultimate salvation. The large bubble includes Jacob’s dream, the Adoration of the Lamb and the Tree of Life.
Hunt was inspired by his personal experience of contemporary Palestine particularly in the principal figures, in the donkey and in the background, but he combines this with an original and erudite symbolism intended to re-interpret the Bible for late Victorian England.