Rest on The Flight into Egypt1518 - 1520. Oil on panel, 121 x 177 cm.
The Virgin and Child are placed on a hill in the centre of the foreground, isolated from the rest of the figures, as in the Berlin panel (Gemäldegalerie ). The dark forest here begins in the middle ground behind the Virgin, merging with the background landscape to one side of the main figure. The countryside to the right, with the motifs of the farm, the village in the middle ground and the city in the distance, is clearly separated from the area on the left, where the city of Heliopolis appears at the foot of the mountain. This natural solitude is linked with the higher foreground by the colour of the terrain and the intricate pathways along which St Joseph ascends with the container of food in his hands.
Patinir follows the same iconographic type, with some variants, used in the paintings of the same theme in the Museo Thyssen, the central panel of the triptych formerly in the Kaufmann collection in Berlin and now in Wiesbaden, and the version at the Gemäldegalerie in Berlin. In this way, he followed a type created by Hans Memling in a panel in the Louvre panel, which was the first to link the Virgin and Child with passages from the flight into Egypt, and subsequently developed by Gerard David, in works in the Prado and Washington, among other locations, and later by other painters, among them Patinir and Joos van Cleve in his Brussels panel. As Falkenburg points out, there is no prior tradition for this theme, which is defined by the episodes from the flight included on a smaller scale in the landscape. In the Rest at the Prado, Patinir incorporates the Massacre of the Innocents in the far right background, as he does in the Wiesbaden triptych and in the Berlin Gemäldegalerie panel. On the same side, in the middle ground, he situates the miracle of the wheatfield, as in the other two panels. What varies in the Prado panel is the position and prominence of the fall of the idols of Heliopolis, which appears in two different places. The stone ball with a pair of feet to the right of the Virgin is all that remains of a pagan image, while the city rises in the middle ground on the left. Amidst its Romanesque or Gothic buildings, the idols can be seen plunging from a tower, while the worshippers can be seen in an adjacent building making offerings to one of their gods, whose head resembles that of a rat. Other allusions to the flight into Egypt are the white saddlebags tied to St Joseph`s staff, the wicker basket and the water gourd with its stopper at Mary`s feet in the foreground. So too are St Joseph himself, shown in the middle ground on the left, and the feeding ass, represented on the other side from the rear in abrupt foreshortening.
The tree next to Mary and the spring near the rocks to her right are unrelated to the miracle of the palm tree which took place during the rest on the flight into Egypt. Both belong to a different iconographic tradition, that of the earthly paradise, which is connected with the Virgin of Humility through the image of Mary seated upon the ground. Patinir here represents the Virgin as Madona lactans, as Mater misercordia, thereby ascribing an important role to her in the incarnation and the redemption. Despite this, by placing her high up in a position of prominence, the painter makes her stand out for her majesty rather than for the type of humility rendered by Jan van Eyck in his drawing St Barbara Seated in Antwerp. Patinir enlarges the space devoted to the earthly paradise. The apple tree with its meagre fruit to the left of Mary is the tree of good and evil, dry as a result of the original sin, but sprouting new shoots after the incarnation of Christ, the beginning of redemption. The grapeless vine wound around the tree is an allusion to Christ`s words I am the vine, and is associated with his death on the cross and the coming of redemption, as is the ivy which also winds around it, likewise symbolic of Christ`s death on the cross and eternal life. The chestnut tree in the middle ground to Mary`s left is associated with the resurrection, and its fallen fruits, some of which have opened to reveal the chestnuts inside, allude to the Immaculate Conception and Mary`s chastity. The plentiful flowers and plants in the foreground also have Christological or Marian meanings, as Falkenburg has explained. They, and the two trees, refer not only to original sin and redemption through the passion and death of Christ, but also to the compassio of the Virgin, an iconographic theme which is, it should be remembered, one of her seven sorrows, as she herself intimates with a low and pensive gaze that casts the shadow of the passion over the happy days of childhood.
The characteristics of the Rest on the Flight into Egypt at the Prado confirm that it belongs to a later date than other panels on the same subject attributed to Patinir. Everything seems to indicate that it was executed between 1518 and 1520, at the beginning of the artist`s last phase of activity, as the dendrochronological analysis confirms. The details of the drawing, the material used, and the colour application methods observable both in X-rays and on the surface all point to an autograph work by Patinir (Silva, P.: Patinir. Essays and critical catalogue, Museo Nacional del Prado, 2007, pp. 182-193).