The identity of the artist who painted this panel is not known, so art historians have named him after a group of his paintings—images of female saints portrayed from the waist up. The master’s portrayals of figures and landscapes distinguish his unsigned paintings.
This northern European landscape provides the setting for a story related in the Gospel of Matthew (2:13–18). In the foreground, Joseph, Mary, and Jesus flee to Egypt to escape the wrath of King Herod. Having heard from wise men of the birth of a Jewish king and fearful that the child would become a threat to his own rule, Herod ordered the deaths of all children two years old or younger in Bethlehem and its environs.
In the middle distance are several small scenes, including one of a village where soldiers carry out Herod’s terrible command. The artist also depicted two events which were not mentioned in Matthew’s account but were popular episodes drawn from apocryphal gospels during the Middle Ages. One scene shows the Holy Family resting beneath a date palm, which bends its branches for Joseph to reach its fruit. In the background, soldiers on horseback converse with a man in a field of wheat, which miraculously grew up overnight. When asked by the soldiers if a family had recently journeyed past, the farmer truthfully answered they had come by when his wheat field was freshly planted. Thus the soldiers were discouraged from pursuit and the family was saved.
tags: narrative, conflict, family, movement, survival, animals, clouds