Rest on the Flight into Egypt

WAG 1021


To escape King Herod’s persecution, the Holy Family fled into Egypt. The Virgin and Child are resting on their journey. In the background a date palm miraculously bends over to allow Joseph to pick its fruit. This legendary incident is typical of the detail with which artists at this period fleshed out the Bible stories. The painting is a Netherlandish version of a now lost north Italian original, which may have been by Leonardo da Vinci. William Roscoe believed the painting was by an Italian artist, Lorenzo di Credi (about 1437-1537). Lorenzo trained in the same workshop as Leonardo. This painting may have had an added appeal to Roscoe. The flowering purple Iris (symbolising the Virgin as Queen of Heaven) and the Columbine (symbolising the Holy Spirit), in the foreground, would have attracted the botanist in him. Roscoe, the father of ten children, was also a great promoter of the benefits of breastfeeding. He once translated into English a 16th-century Italian poem about the subject. The painting has also been attributed in the past to the Flemish painter, Bernaert van Orley (born between 1488-92 and died about 1541-42) and the German painter Jan Joest (1455/60-1519). This is one of the artworks presented by the Liverpool Royal Institution. Liverpool’s economic development grew directly from Britain’s involvement with transatlantic slavery: the kidnapping, enslavement and forced migration of people from West Africa to the Americas and many to the Caribbean. Many members of the Royal Institution made their fortunes directly through the trade or indirectly through the wider economy. This wealth was largely how they were able to bring rare art and treasures, such as this, to the city.