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Rest on the Flight into Egypt

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Gerard David
Oudewater? – Bruges 1523
oil on panel
81 x 99 cm
Inventory Number 47

Gerard David settled in Bruges in 1484. Like Jan van Eyck and Hans Memling before him, he would become one of the town's most prominent artists. David moved forward with the times, painting not only for large institutions or members of the aristocracy, but also to sell to a wider public in the open market. To cater for the tastes of his clientele, he produced numerous pictures featuring the Holy Virgin. The panels were conveniently sized, so that they would fit into any interior.
In this particular example, entitled Rest on the Flight into Egypt, Mary is breastfeeding the infant Jesus at the edge of a wood in a rocky landscape. A little further in the background, Joseph is resting and the couple's mule is grazing. The notion that Jesus was dependent on his mother's milk reveals his human nature, which is further emphasised by the child's almost naked body. This focus on the human aspect of Jesus was intended as an encouragement for all those who wished to emulate his example.

Desert woodland

The woodland in the right of the picture is a metaphor for God’s dominion over all things living. It is also a place for hermits and monastic orders to retreat to for meditation and to come closer to God. Hence this rather ‘Northern’ version of the Biblical desert.

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