The Dawn of Christianity (The Flight into Egypt) (1841)


The greatest English painter of his generation, Turner has his roots in the English topographical watercolour tradition. His late works of the 1840s, of which this is a superb example, are characterized by brilliant colour and free brushwork. The Flight into Egypt depicts Mary, Joseph and the infant Christ fleeing into Egypt to escape King Herod. The broken Egyptian architecture half-submerged in the Nile recalls Turner’s vaporous, romantic visions of Venice, and conveys a sense of faded power and crumbling prestige. In contrast to the ruined temples, a piercing ray of light appears to fall directly on the Christ child illuminating the new religion and the promise of salvation. The snake is a reference to Christ’s triumph over the original sin of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.