The Rest on the Flight into Egypt

Gerrit Pietersz. Sweelink Netherlandish

Not on view

An Amsterdam painter and draftsman, Gerrit Pietersz., moved to Haarlem in about 1588-89, to train with Cornelis Cornelisz., a Mannerist artist whose work had a lasting influence on him. While in Haarlem, he made six prints that are arguably his most innovative and beautiful works. Although Pietrsz. was drawn to printmaking while in Haarlem, he, unlike his contemporaries, eschewed the sharp swelling and tapering lines characteristic of Mannerist engraving and turned to etching instead. In contrast to the hard brilliance of the engravings by Goltzius and his school, Pietersz.’s etchings are loose and exuberant. The lines seem almost to have a life of their own, as we can see in the looping curls of Joseph’s beard and hair in The Rest on the Flight into Egypt, or the bunched drapery of St. Cecilia’s sleeve in St. Cecilia Playing the Organ.

Printmaking was something of an experiment for Pietersz. He only executed six etchings during his entire career, five of which are dated 1593. All of his etchings are extremely rare, known only in a handful of impressions. The Met has four of his prints (one in a duplicate impression), more than any institution apart from the Albertina in Vienna and the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.

Here Pietersz. shows the Holy Family seated on the ground, behind them a tree hung with a large cloth to screen them from sight as the Virgin nurses the Infant Christ. Joseph leans over them protectively, in a more engaged and sympathetic depiction than was usual for this period. The fluidity of his line and the overall softness of the portrayal provide a striking contrast to the engraved works of his contemporaries. The subject of the flight into Egypt clearly engaged Pietersz., for in addition to the present work, he depicted the same subject at a slightly different moment in time in The Holy Family with the Apple (Hollstein XVII.109.2), and used similar compositional elements in his portrayal of Faith, Hope and Charity (see inv. no. 17.50.1594). The museum has two impressions of this print, inv. nos. 1974.547.7 and 68.681.8. The former is an earlier, more richly inked impression.

The Rest on the Flight into Egypt, Gerrit Pietersz. Sweelink (Netherlandish, Amsterdam 1566–before 1612 (?)), Etching; second state of two

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