Rest on the flight into egypt by Titian

Titian’s ‘Rest on the Flight into Egypt’ is up for auction

Culture News

Christie’s Old Masters Part I auction on 2nd July will include a work by Titian that has been lost, stolen and hung on walls across Europe. Rest on the Flight into Egypt has an estimate of £15million to £25million.

Tiziano Vecellio, known as Titian, created works in his early career which were often modest in scale and characterised by a careful application of paint, in contrast to the expressive brushwork of his later years. An exemplary piece from this period, Rest on the Flight into Egypt, will be featured in the Old Masters Part I sale at Christie’s in London on July 2, 2024. This painting, inspired by the biblical story from the Gospel of Matthew, depicts the Holy Family resting during their escape to Egypt to avoid King Herod’s wrath.

The painting’s composition places the Holy Family against a radiant sky, framed by a serene pastoral landscape. Despite the intimate scale of the work, the figures are rendered monumentally.

Titian captures a tender moment between mother and child, with the Madonna embracing a somewhat restless Jesus. Joseph, shown slightly apart, reflects exhaustion in his posture and facial expression, adding to the painting’s emotional depth.

Titian’s exact birth year is uncertain, but it is generally believed to be between 1488 and 1490. This would place him in his late teens or early twenties when he created Rest on the Flight into Egypt, showcasing an impressive grasp of sentiment and human emotion for such a young artist. The painting also hints at Christ’s future, with the white swaddling cloth alluding to his burial shroud. The large tree echoes Joseph’s posture, providing a symbolic shelter for the Holy Family.

Venice and Titian

Titian exhibited a remarkable aptitude for art from a very young age. According to legend, he amazed those around him as a child by painting a Madonna on a wall using flower nectar for colours.

Read: short biography of Titian

Recognising his prodigious talent, his family sent him to Venice around age 10, where he became an apprentice in Giovanni Bellini’s workshop, the foremost painter in the city at that time.

Venice’s status as a hub for trade in dyes and textiles gave artists access to vibrant pigments, which is reflected in the rich colours of Titian’s work. Mary’s deep red robe, contrasted with her ultramarine-blue cloak and Joseph’s bright yellow mantle, exemplifies this vivid palette.

History of Rest on the Flight into Egypt

The painting was first recorded in the early 17th century in the collection of Bartolomeo della Nave, a Venetian spice merchant known for his impressive art collection. After della Nave’s death, his collection was acquired by James Hamilton, Duke of Hamilton, in 1638 and brought to London. Following Hamilton’s execution in 1649, Archduke Leopold Wilhelm of Austria acquired the collection, including Titian’s masterpiece.

Leopold’s vast collection, displayed in Brussels and later in Vienna, included over 1,300 paintings by renowned artists. Rest on the Flight into Egypt was even featured in David Teniers’ kunstkammer paintings, celebrating Leopold’s collection.

The painting eventually found its way to Longleat House in Wiltshire after being acquired by John Alexander Thynne, 4th Marquess of Bath, in a Christie’s sale in 1878. It remained there until it was famously stolen in 1995, only to be recovered seven years later by art detective Charles Hill.

This masterpiece, cherished by aristocrats, archdukes, and emperors for its vivid depiction of familial love amidst nature, has had a storied journey. As it heads to auction, its legacy continues. What will be the next chapter?

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