The story of the Rest on the Flight into Egypt is from the apocryphal gospel of the Pseudo Matthew. Mola imbues the subject with a charming informality—the Christ Child, nearly nude, climbs into Mary’s lap, and an angel waters the donkey at a pool on the left.
The composition owes much to Mola’s training with Francesco Albani (1578–1660), who reinterpreted this subject many times throughout his long career, notably a picture in the Musée National du Château, Fontainebleau, which Albani sold in May 1637 (Stéphane Loire, L'Albane, 1578–1660
, exh. cat., Musée du Louvre, Paris, [Paris, 2000], p. 80), and a small variant of it in the collection of the Earl of Yarborough at Brocklesby Park, Lincolnshire, of which Mola made an etching (The Met, 47.100.887
; see Additional Images, fig. 1) of exactly the same size and dedicated to a Bolognese patron, thus dating it from about 1635 to 1637. Albani’s compositions particularly inspired the pose of Joseph, the motif of the angel watering the donkey, and even to a certain extent the posture of the Christ Child in the MMA picture, one of at least five treatments of the subject that Mola painted. Among these are a depiction that includes a statue of a sphinx, acquired by Catherine the Great (State Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg), and a large canvas in the Galleria Doria Pamphilj, Rome, closely based on the etching Mola executed at least a decade earlier. Most of the variants show small figures set in extensive landscapes and have three cherub heads hovering above the Madonna. The pose of the Christ Child reappears in reverse in Mola’s early painting the Assumption of the Magdalen
(Galleria Pallavicini, Rome; attributed by Richard Cocke  to Mola's pupil G. B. Bancuore).
This cabinet picture is generally thought to date from before Mola established himself in Rome in 1647. A more precise dating is suggested by Mola’s sketch (British Museum, London) for a fresco of 1641–42 in the church of the Madonna del Carmelo in the artist’s native town of Coldrerio, his first documented public commission. On the verso of the sketch is a freely executed wash drawing of the landscape seen from Mola’s family’s house. As Mola has indicated in inscriptions on the drawing, it shows an old apple tree silhouetted before the valley of Brusata. Either this drawing or a memory of the scene inspired the chain of mountains on the horizon seen across an extensive valley in the MMA painting, as well as the trunk of an old tree slanting toward the landscape and echoing the diagonal movement of the clambering Christ Child.
[2011; adapted from Fahy 2005]