The Flight into Egypt
The Flight into Egypt

The Flight into Egypt

Claude Lorrain (French, 1604-1682)

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This work represents the flight of the Holy Family into Egypt to escape Herod's persecution. The peacefulness of the setting provides a sharp contrast to the violent massacre they have fled. The infant Jesus holds the donkey's reins, a precocious action that may symbolize his divine nature and the role of providence in the family's safekeeping.

Claude was in his early 30s when he painted this picture. He had long since left his native Lorraine and established himself in Rome as a painter of landscapes, a newly emerging genre. His views of the Roman countryside were admired for their golden light and sensitive rendering of atmospheric effects.

Indianapolis Museum of Art: Highlights of the Collection (2005)

Claude Gellée was trained as a pastry chef in Lorraine, France. Orphaned at age twelve, Claude traveled to Rome, where he found work as a painter's servant. By the time he was twenty-seven years old, Claude was established in Rome as a painter of landscapes, a newly emerging genre.

Claude's landscapes found great favor among Rome's land-owning nobility, who appreciated his ability to combine the actual characteristics of the Roman countryside with idealized, poetic evocations. To achieve the realistic aspects of his landscapes, Claude ventured into the malaria-ridden campagna and made ink sketches that boldly capture the effects of sunlight at different hours, under various atmospheric conditions. Back in his studio, he enhanced these with a repertoire of motifs, including classical temples, shepherds and travelers, and full-canopied trees towering in the middle ground. Drama and grandeur enter the compositions by means of distant horizons, surprising—but not irrational—shifts in scale, and pooling areas of sunlight.

This work, dating from Claude's early career, represents Mary, Joseph, and the Christ child going into Egypt to escape Herod's persecution in Bethlehem. The peacefulness of the pastoral setting provides a sharp contrast to the violent massacre in the city they have fled. The infant Jesus holds the donkey's reins, a precocious action that may symbolize his divine nature, and the role of providence in the family's safekeeping.

Vincent Donjeux [died 1793], Paris, by 1773;{1}
Henry John Temple, 2nd Viscount Palmerston [1739-1802], Broadlands, Hampshire, England, in 1773;
By descent within the family until 1889.
Sold to Sir Edward Cecil Guinness [1847-1927], later Earl of Iveagh, Dublin and London, in 1889;{2}
By descent within the family to executors of the estate of Arthur Ernest Guinness [1876-1949], Holmbury House, Surrey, until 1953;
Intended sale at (Christie’s, London) in 1953, but probably sold prior to auction;{3}
(Knoedler Galleries, New York, with Thos. Agnew & Sons, London, and Pinakos Inc., New York) in 1953;{4}
(Thos. Agnew & Sons, London);
Sold to Mrs. G.H.A. Clowes [1886-1967], Indianapolis, in 1959;
Clowes Fund Collection, Indianapolis, since 1959;
On long-term loan to the Indianapolis Museum of Art since 1971 (C10052);
Given to the Indianapolis Museum of Art, now the Indianapolis Museum of Art at Newfields, in 2003 (2003.171).
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{1} The 18th-century artist-turned-dealer Donjeux sold this painting (and LV2, Coast Scene) to Henry Temple, 2nd Viscount Palmerston, as recorded in the Viscount’s “Book of Purchase”; see Marcel Röthlisberger, Claude Lorrain: The Paintings, 1961), 1: pp. 99, 466. For information on Donjeux, see the preface of the sale catalogue, Lebrun et Paillet, Paris, Catalogue des Objets Précieux trouvés après le décès du Citoyen Vincent Donjeux, ancient négociant de Tableaux et curiosités, 29 April 1793, and Charlotte Guichard, “Small Worlds: The Auction Economy in the Late Eighteenth-Century Paris Art Market,” in Neil de Marchi and Sophie Raux, eds., Moving Pictures: Intra-European Trade in Images, 16th-18th Centuries, Studies in European Urban History (1100-1800), vol. 34, Turnhout, Belgium, 2014, pp. 244, 246.
{2} As cited in Marcel Röthlisberger, Claude Lorrain: The Paintings, New Haven, 1961, vol. 1, p. 99.
{3} See Christie’s, London, Pictures by old masters, ancient and modern pictures and drawings, 10 July 1953, lot no. 57, but apparently sold before the sale to Knoedler, Agnew and Pinakos; see footnote below.
{4} M. Knoedler & Co., Painting Stockbook 10, page 111, no. 5435, Knoedler digital archive, Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles. The stock number “A5435” is written in crayon on the back of the frame.

Object Information

artist
Claude Lorrain (French, 1604-1682)
creation date
about 1635
materials
oil on canvas
dimensions
28 x 38-1/2 in. (canvas)
approximately 36-3/8 x 46-1/2 x 3-3/4 in. (framed)
mark descriptions
Inscribed on stone, center, at underside: CLAV... IN... (partially illegible)
accession number
2003.171
credit line
The Clowes Collection
copyright
Public Domain
collection
European Painting and Sculpture Before 1800
colors

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