Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry

The Flight into Egypt

Folio 57r

The Flight into Egypt, placed at the beginning of the Vespers for the Virgin, is the only illustration for the Hours of the Virgin that the Limbourg brothers did not have time to execute.
Jean Colombe has devoted two miniatures to the subject: one large illumination, in the usual format, above a smaller illumination placed like a predella, both within a rather heavy architectural frame. Each miniature illustrates an anecdote popular in the Middle Ages.
The first comes from the apocryphal Gospel of Mary's Birth and tbe Savior's Childhood. This text states that on the third day of their flight, the Virgin stopped to rest beneath a tree bearing fruit which caught her fancy. But the tree was tall, and, realizing that the fruit was beyond Joseph's reach, the Infant Jesus said, "Tree, bow your branches and feed my mother with your fruit." The tree leaned, and the family was able to pick and eat its fruit.
Jean Colombe has treated the scene with his usual vigor, placing it in a setting of bluish mountains and rocks that in no way resembles a desert. Jesus, already a tall boy, seems to be talking to the tree as it bends within reach of Joseph, who typifies the heavy- bearded figures we see so often in Jean Colombe's miniatures.
The Virgin, with her arched brow and long blonde hair, maintains an air of charming modesty in the swaying hipshot stance fashionable at the time of the artist.
On the right, startled villagers observe the scene, while on the left two girls are seated, one apparently arousing the amazement of the other by showing her some fruit she was able to pick.
The scene below illustrates another anecdote related to the Flight into Egypt. While fleeing Herod's men, the Virgin and Child met a peasant sowing wheat. Jesus reached into the bag of seed and threw onto the path a handful, which immediately sprang into wheat as high and as ripe as if it were a year old.
When Herod's soldiers arrived and asked the peasant if he had seen a woman carrying a child, he answered, "Yes, when I sowed this wheat," whereupon they gave up the pursuit.
Also of interest on this page is the initial that decorates the text separating the two miniatures. Within it, the figure of the Christ Child is simply modeled with light touches of gold.

small image (40KB) --- large image (291KB) --- Upper center detail (large) (262KB) --- The Virgin, Joseph and Child (large) (252KB)

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