Gerard David (c. 1460-1523): The Rest on the Flight into Egypt, c. 1510, oil on panel. National Gallery, Washington.
In the Tempest even though Giorgione created a unique and audacious version of the "Rest on the Flight into Egypt," the subject itself was an extremely common one at the time. Many Venetian homes contained versions of this episode on the flight into Egypt derived from popular apocryphal stories. Most of these were done in the shops of Netherlandish masters like Memlinc and Gerard David. Copies even found their way to the New World.
David's version now in the National Gallery is described as one of his "lovliest and most peaceful" creations. Indeed, it is so lovely that reproductions can still be found featured today in Catholic image sales catalogs. For years my wife and I had one of these reproductions hanging in our hallway without even realizing what it was.
In this version done about the same time as the Tempest, David puts the Madonna and Child in the center sitting on a rocky formation that must be the remains of the Egyptian idols and temple that crumbled on the entrance of the child into Egypt. The Madonna wears her traditional blue and red. The Child holds a bunch of grapes symbolic of the Eucharistic sacrifice.
Joseph is in the background using his staff to get fruit from a tree. David dispenses with the bending palm of legend and Joseph does not appear to be very old. His pilgrim's basket is at the feet of the Madonna. The Ass is off to the left.
In this version the Madonna is not nursing as she is in the Tempest. In other versions in New York's Metropolitan Museum and in the Prado, David depicts her in the act of nursing.
Gerard David, "Rest on the Flight into Egypt." Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York.
Here the Madonna nurses in the foreground with the actual flight in the background.
Gerard David, "Rest on the Flight into Egypt," Prado.
In this version we can see a city in the background just as in Giorgione's Tempest.
In her excellent but unfortunately unpublished 1975 PhD dissertation Sheila Schwartz noted the popularity of the subject of the Rest.
This composition provided the basis for a new type of Rest—the ‘background’ or ‘fringe’ Rest, where an image of the Virgin and Child in a landscape is transformed into a Rest on the Flight by the addition of Joseph in the middle or far distance, performing his by-now traditional duties of plucking the fruit, getting the water, or even tending the donkey….this composition is most often used by Memlinc’s successor at Bruges, Gerard David…. In David’s many versions of the Rest (and in the shop replicas) the Virgin can be full-, three-quarter, or half-length, and the subject indicated either by Joseph alone or by the whole Flight into Egypt in the background. The frequency of this composition suggests that the David shop was turning out these small Rests (they average ca. 35 x 50cm.) to satisfy a market demand for private devotional images. (p. 121)
Sheila Schwartz, The Iconography of the Rest on the Flight into Egypt, New York University, Ph. D., 1975
My website, MyGiorgione, now includes my interpretations of Giorgione's "Tempest" as "The Rest on the Flight into Egypt"; his "Three Ages of Man" as "The Encounter of Jesus with the Rich Young Man"; Titian's, "Sacred and Profane Love" as "The Conversion of Mary Magdalen"; and Titian's "Pastoral Concert" as his "Homage to Giorgione".