This small lovely painting is not only a masterpiece of spiritual feeling, it is certainly one of the most strikingly nuanced expressions of form and color found among Renaissance pictures of the Virgin and Child. To look, for instance, at the colors of the two blue robes Mary wears where they interact subtly with blue green shadows of baby Jesus’s diaphanous garment is to discover an incredible range of cool and warm blue colors that play across feeling like the notes of a jazz riff.
The sense of stillness and balance that suffuses the image through its drawing is present in all its tonal and coloristic qualities as well. And every corner of the picture has its own pictorial delights. Hard to see in the reproduction, but in the right-hand foreground is visible, for example, just the edge of a little stream. The clarity and detail of Mary’s basket can not be described as anything but magnificient. And the folds of Mary’s outer garment is such a stunningly fine tribute to the laws of gravity such that no physicist of our modern era could begin to better, no matter how elegant his equations!
In short, painting doesn’t get any better than this!
In case you’re wondering what Joseph is doing back there in the background: he’s knocking nuts from a tree. And on the other side of the picture, the donkey is quietly foraging.
The Rest on the Flight into Egypt, c. 1510
National Gallery of Art, Washington DC