November 17, 2017
Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669), The Flight into Egypt: Crossing a Brook (I/I), 1654, etching and drypoint, 3 7/8 x 5 13/16 inches. Brigham Young University Museum of Art, purchase/gift of the Mahonri M. Young Estate, 1959.
The theme of the Holy Family’s flight into Egypt to protect the life of the Christ Child is one Rembrandt treated numerous times throughout his storied career. The members of the Holy Family are depicted as ordinary peasants whose humble simplicity belies their divine nature. Only Rembrandt’s use of compositional and stylistic devices indicates that this is not an ordinary peasant family.
The divinity of the Virgin and Child is first suggested by the fact that they are placed on a much higher plane than Joseph and the donkey. They are further set apart by the bright illumination of their figures, contrasting dramatically with the dark shadow surrounding them. Moreover, this pair is made more significant by their bold pyramidal configuration with the head of Mary at the apex. This last feature clearly reflects the influence of Italian Renaissance art on Rembrandt during the 1640s. One final element that focuses attention on Mary is her forlorn and thoughtful gaze. It is this interest in the human, psychological element that separates Rembrandt from his predecessors.