The Rest on the Flight: Lightly Etched

Rembrandt Van Rijn
The Rest on the Flight: Lightly Etched

An original Rembrandt Van Rijn etching.


Original etching printed in black ink on laid paper

Signed and dated in the plate lower left Rembrandt f. 1645. 

A superb 17th century/lifetime impression of Bartsch, Hind, Biorklund-Barnard, Usticke and New Hollstein’s only state of this scarce, delicately etched plate (characterized by G.W. Nowell-Usticke in his 1967 catalogue Rembrandt’s Etchings, States and Values, as “A very rare, lightly etched plate,” and assigned his scarcity rating of “RRR-” [30-50 impressions extant in that year]). 

Catalog: Bartsch 58; Hind 216; Biorklund-Barnard 45-E; Usticke 58; New Hollstein 227.

From the late Middle Ages on, artists were attracted to the theme of the Flight into Egypt and the related subject of the Rest on the Flight, seizing the opportunity provided by the vagueness of the New Testament text (Mathew 2:1-23) to explore details of the domestic life of the Holy Family.  In the episode from Christ’s early childhood, Christ’s parents alerted by an angel inn Joseph’s dream, flee with the child into Egypt in order to avoid the persecution of King Herod, who hoped to exterminate the rival infant “King of the Jews” about whose birth the three wise men had informed him.  They remained in Egypt until an angel informed him that Herod was dead and it was now safe to return.
“The Rest on the Flight” of 1645, lightly drawn and etched is one of a small group of Rembrandt etchings in which he intentionally sought the utmost delicacy of line and lightness of tone, an effect not unlike silverpoint drawing.
Here the Holy Family is seen enjoying a picnic rest stop (at right a saddle rests on the ground) rather than collapsing with exhaustion after their travels.  Mary and Joseph are seated companionably side by side.  Mary raises the baby’s blanket so that Joseph, who is in the act of peeling an apple, can gaze fondly at his son.  The landscape setting is deliberately vague, but at upper left a pair of birds visually allude to the theme of family harmony.