Patinir’s Flight into Egypt
Fanciful crags, a charming village, a misty coastline and a blue sea in the distance. In the foreground, we make out Joseph leading the little donkey that carries Mary and the newborn Jesus. The family is fleeing to Egypt after Herod ordered the killing of all boys under the age of two. He hoped that way to safeguard his position as king of Judea. Down in the village, soldiers are running amok, killing innocent children. On the far left, the statue of a heathen idol topples from its pedestal as Jesus, son of the one true God, passes by.
Dramatic Flight into Egypt
Despite the small size of this painting, Landscape with the Flight into Egypt offers a magnificent panorama. The Southern Netherlandish painter Joachim Patinir depicts the vast landscape so perfectly that the dramatic biblical events are hardly noticeable. You almost have to search for the fleeing Holy Family or for Herod’s Massacre of the Innocents. Although the landscape seems realistic, this is not a real place, and certainly not one located between Bethlehem and Egypt. Patinir’s approach here is primarily analytical: he observed nature in different locations and then combined his impressions later. The rocks, for instance, come from his native Dinant region, while the village would be more at home in the gentle hills of Brabant. For its part, the sea recalls the Italian coast.
Landscape as the principal subject
In this painting, Landscape with the Flight into Egypt, Joachim Patinir has strung together several different landscapes to create a fanciful, poetic setting. His refined, detailed painting style still relies on the Gothic, but is innovative at the same time. He offers a comprehensive description of nature. A mountain goat hops amongst the rocks, rabbits play beneath the trees and swans bob on the water. The representation of the crags and foliage is admirably realistic as well. Unlike the work of the Flemish Primitives, the religious subject takes second place here to the natural scene. Patinir has promoted the landscape to the main subject.
Patinir’s landscape painting
In his Landscape with the Flight into Egypt, Patinir visualizes the whole of creation. Nature in all its diversity, with the religious theme inserted into it. The fact that this is an imagined nature lends the religious subject matter an almost cosmic significance. Some interpret the painting as an allegory of the world: human beings moving through the landscape like pilgrims.
Patinir: a trendsetter in the Low Countries
This early work by Joachim Patinir was immensely important to the development of landscape painting. Landscape with the Flight into Egypt features all the trademarks that earned the artist his fame: the poetic landscape with tiny figures, the high horizon, the atmospheric perspective and the use of colour. The religious scene as a pretext for painting a detailed landscape is likewise typical. Compositions like this situate Patinir at the birth of landscape painting as a genre in its own right. He is viewed as the first true landscape painter from the Low Countries.