(b. ca. 1480, Regensburg, d. 1538, Regensburg)

Rest on the Flight into Egypt

Oil on panel, 57 x 38 cm
Staatliche Museen, Berlin

The Virgin is shown resting in a throne-like chair by a richly ornate Renaissance fountain, while Joseph proffers a basket of cherries. Several angels are playing in and around the basin of the fountain, and the child Jesus tries to reach into the water. The fountain-pillar is lavishly decorated with sculpture. The significance of the group of figures at the top - a bearded man with a boy shooting an arrow - is not clear, but appears to relate to ancient mythology. Beyond the fountain the wooded shores of a lake stretch far into the distance. The rocks are crowded with gateways, fortified roads and towers, houses with pointed gables, ruins and decaying roofs - all so intricately interwoven with trees and foliage that it is difficult to detect the relationship of any one building to the other.

The element of fantasy, which so dominates the landscape, is also apparent in the fountain, in which the figures seem to be drawn both from reality and from the artist's imagination. There is no prototype or parallel in Altdorfer's time for the bizarre appearance of the fountain. The painter's artistic invention was sin this case at least a generation ahead of his time.

At the foot of the fountain is a stone tablet bearing the Latin inscription: 'Albertus Aldorfer pictor Ratisponensis in salutem animae hoc tibi munus diva maria sacravit corde fideli 1510 AA' ('Albrecht Altdorfer, painter from Regensburg, for the salvation of his soul dedicated this gift to thee, divine Mary, with a faithful heart');.this indicates a very personal confession on the part of the painter, his appeal to the Virgin Mary. The dedication must also be taken as an explanation of the central feature of the picture, the fountain, which - though symbolic of a heathen place - is nonetheless the water of life for the Holy Family. The motif recalls the legend, according to which a spring appeared from the earth when the Holy Family in its flight sought a place to rest. A few years earlier Cranach had treated the same theme;this fact establishes a singular bond between the two paintings.

It is assumed that the landscape reproduces impressions from the country near Regensburg, and in particular the hamlets of Scheuchenberg, Lerchenhaube and Wörth, which are also recognizable in Altdorfer's Crucifixion in the gallery at Cassel. The painter settled in Regensburg in 1505 and twenty years later was appointed the city's master-builder. Most of his pictures point to a predilection for architecture and architectural décor. An example of this is the highly imaginitive construction of the fountain and - on another panel in Berlin painted somewhat later - the ruin in the darkness which serves as the setting for the birth of Christ.

© Web Gallery of Art, created by Emil Krén and Daniel Marx.