CORTONA, Pietro da
(b. 1596, Cortona, d. 1669, Roma)

Holy Family Resting on the Flight to Egypt

c. 1643
Oil on copper, 48 x 39 cm
Alte Pinakothek, Munich

This small painting of the Madonna by the great fresco artist and architect Cortona, founder of Roman High Baroque, may be regarded as the very epitome of a Baroque devotional picture. It shows the Holy Family resting on the flight to Egypt. Joseph is approaching in the background, while in the foreground an angel is offering fruit to refresh the child.

Yet the expression "devotional picture" should be used with caution, for the question of specific types in this genre is still the subject of lively debate and much research remains to be conducted into the eras after the Middle Ages.

Nevertheless, even at first glance, it is clear that the intimacy of Cortona's Madonna painting has more than just an aesthetic intention; it is meant to influence the mood of the spectator in a manner conducive to private prayer. The question of the devotional picture is somewhat complicated by Cortona's use of elements taken from the pagan vocabulary of early Roman Baroque - the idyllic, the pastoral, the antique bucolic landscape with its shady trees and wild wine - in keeping with the increasingly aesthetic interests of clients and buyers. Cortona's powers of synthesis are evident in the way he applies them successfully to create an ecclesiastical image of great atmosphere.