On learning of the birth of Christ, whom the Magi called "the King of the Jews," King Herod felt his throne was in jeopardy. Knowing only that the baby was somewhere in Bethlehem, the king ordered Jewish boys around Bethlehem under two years old to be murdered. Alerted by angels, Christ's parents fled to Egypt and saved him.
For this drawing, Amico Aspertini borrowed from the ancient Roman sculpture that he had seen in Rome five or ten years before. The intertwining figures at right parallel those on ancient Roman sarcophagi. Aspertini's art also included unidealized shapes and awkward bodies. Original and unconventional for the date, his figures look like local peasants rather than ideal types. Aspertini's draftsmanship characteristically included encrusted white highlights, squat figures, and manic energy. Between about 1510 and 1520, he often used this colorful combination of red and black chalk with white bodycolor. His extreme white heightening lends the drawing a feeling of near three-dimensionality.