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Antoine Mirou

Landscape with rest on the flight into Egypt

Copper: 21,3 x 30,2 cm

introduction

The subject of this little copper panel depicting the rest on the flight into Egypt, is merely a pretext for painting a wide landscape with forests and river, which displays the preromantic accents characteristic of the influence of the Frankenthal School. Buildings in ruins and tufted vegetation are recurrent elements in the mannerist landscapes produced by this school. Mirou gradually underwent an evolution towards realism without abandoning this characteristic lyrical spirit. The clearly structured composition with a foreground, a centre and a background as well as a high horizon line indicate his attachment to the tradition of the landscape painting of the Sixteenth century.

On each side of the two large trees which frame the composition, acting as depth-creating elements, Mirou constructs a sweeping serpentine vista into the distance around the bends in a river that widens into a vast natural harbour surrounded by the structures of a large city that can be discerned at the end of the far valley. Although the foreground provides the artist with the setting for the religious theme of the title, it is likewise rendered with a naturalistic realism, and an anecdotal character full of charming, lifelike detail that anchors the scene firmly in the realm of the prosaic.

At the left-hand edge, two pack donkeys are led by a figure beyond the visual scope of the picture. At the edge of the road they follow, beyond which opens the perspective onto the valley, there is a peculiar kind of still life made up of the remains of an animal skeletons. Klaus Ertz pointed out that this motif recurs in several works by Mirou's contemporary, Jan Brueghel the Elder. The meaning of these cattle skulls and bones in the context of these religiously-themed landscapes is obvious enough. In this particular case, they may be regarded as a symbolic memento mori. In any event, Mirou captures the highly domestic atmosphere of a village going about its daily affairs.

It is interesting to consider the originality with which the light effects are handled. By juxtaposing brilliantly illuminated areas with dark zones, and back-lighting large masses, intense contrasts are formed, enriching the spatial effects. On the other bank of the river the painting shifts into a brighter composition, bathed in light, with a palette of pink, brown and ochre. This luminosity transcends the supernatural character of the group of figures in the foreground. While the shepherd leaning on the wall of the central house appears to be paying more attention to the convoy of pack donkeys than his own herd (the artists could hardly resist a nod to the pastoral symbolism ready at hand) who graze at the water's edge; two women approach a pair of travellers.

Riding on a donkey, Mary, holding the baby Jesus, is approached by two other women. Joseph, who leads the way, turns to witness the scene. Behind them travelling on the same road but coming from the opposite direction, two elegant horsemen disappear into in a dense mass of woods in shades of green, in which the vegetation merges with the capricious rocky formations. The corner of forest that appears to thrust forward at the right, with its picturesque accent of the building in ruins shows a somewhat dramatic approach to the vegetation, providing the scenery for the rest on the flight into Egypt. Mirou's palette is darkened here, as if to better render the protective shield that nature provides the holy family.

Provenance :
Private collection