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Object details

Landscape with the Flight into Egypt
17 × 21 cm
Inventory number: 
lower left: .OPVS/ IOACHIM.D./ PATINIR.

More about this work

In this little panel Joachim Patinir artificially strings together jagged rocks, buildings in a hilly landscape, high mountains and a broad view of the sea to create a bizarre imaginary landscape with a high horizon. It is composed of genuine landscape elements that he had studied beforehand, such as rock formations from the Mosan region (Patinir’s birthplace), the hilly Brabant countryside, a misty Italian coastline, and the Alps on the horizon. Netherlandish painters were familiar with Italian seascapes and mountain landscapes from the countless depictions by artists who had travelled south over the Alps.
The separate zones are demarcated by shades of brown, green and blue. That patterning, which becomes fainter as it fades into the distance, creates an atmospheric perspective that creates a sense of recession into depth. In this particular case we have a panoramic world landscape, in which the entirety of creation and nature is depicted in all its diversity from a high vantage point.
This landscape is the setting for a religious story that is based partly on St Matthew’s gospel (chaper 2) and partly on apocryphal writings. In the foreground Joseph is leading the ass on which the Virgin Mary is seated with the newborn Jesus. The Holy Family has fled into Egypt. On the far left a heathen idol tumbles from its pedestal when Jesus, the son of the only God, passes by. A little further off, soldiers sent by Herod are killing the ‘innocent children’, while others are being sent the wrong way as they try to pursue Jesus.
The genre of the world landscape was largely shaped by Joachim Patinir at the beginning of the 16th century. It evolved from the 15th-century landscape backgrounds of altarpieces, pictures of saints and portraits, which in their turn had replaced the gold backgrounds of the 14th century. Landscape painting became a specialisation in its own right in the 1520s, and around 1600 it began splitting up into different types. The small scenes give the panoramic landscape a narrative character. The meaning of the biblical subject gains added emphasis from the detailed rendering of the landscape. Falkenburg (1985), for instance, regards Patinir’s world landscapes as settings for allegories of the world in which man is a pilgrim progressing along a pathway of life that is devoted to God. That, in its turn, makes the landscapes bearers of meaning.
This Landscape with the Flight into Egypt comes from early in Patinir’s career. It was painted around 1516-1517, although it is not certain that he travelled to Italy before 1515. He could also have undergone influences from Italy through the work of contemporaries like Gerard David, Bernard van Orley, Quinten Massijs and Joos van Cleve, with whom Patinir was in close contact. His detailed, delicate style tends a little towards the Gothic, but also has traces of innovation. Fauna, flora and rock formations are extensively and precisely worked up, but unlike the so-called Flemish Primitives the religious subject is subordinated to the natural surroundings, so much so that one can speak of a secularisation of the religious subject.
Patinir’s known oeuvre consists of 31 paintings, 19 of them autograph and signed, with 22 from his workshop (Koch 1968). They are mainly landscapes with small religious scenes. Several landscape elements recur in his work, such as the steep rock formations, sometimes contrasted with a stretch of inhabited countryside and a view of a distant town or village. It is a structure found in two other early works, Landscape with the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam) and The martyrdom of St Catherine (Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna). He later painted several scenes of The Rest on the Flight into Egypt, in which the central group of the Virgin and Jesus is more pronounced in relation to the landscape. Patinir is regarded as the first true landscape painter in the Netherlands. Albrecht Dürer called him ‘the good landscape painter’ in his travel journal of 1520-1521.

Acquisition history

bequest of: ridder Florent van Ertborn, 1841

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