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The Flight into Egypt
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Spitz Master
French, Paris, about 1420
Tempera colors and gold leaf on parchment
7 15/16 x 5 7/8 in.
MS. 57, FOL. 103V

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In the Hours of the Virgin in this book of hours, the Vespers service opens with a miniature of the Flight into Egypt. In brilliant, jewel-like colors, Joseph leads Mary on a donkey to escape the cruel Herod, King of Judea, who had decreed the death of all newborn male children in an effort to destroy the newborn Christ Child. The illuminator portrayed the Holy Family journeying through a hilly landscape with Herod's men in pursuit. Peeking over the horizon at the left, their enormous heads dwarf their surroundings. The exaggerated scale of the soldiers contributes to the sense of danger and enchantment in the Holy Family's escape.

Within the fleshy fronds and fine sprays of leaves in the border, the illuminator shows the Miracle of the Wheat Field. The apocryphal legend recounts that after the Holy Family passed a worker sowing wheat in the fields as they fled to Egypt, the wheat miraculously grew to full term overnight. A short time later, when the pursuing soldiers asked the farmer if he had seen the Holy Family, he replied that they had passed by when he was sowing. The soldiers incorrectly assumed that the Holy Family had passed by months before and so gave up their search.