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Landscape with the Flight into Egypt

Manner of Brueghel Jan the Elder

(Brussels 1568 - Antwerp 1625)

This round painting depicts a Landscape with the Flight into Egypt. Critics generally believe it to be either a derivation from Jan Brueghel the Elder or a product of his school. It dates to no earlier than the late 16th century. At a later date, an unknown artist decorated the back of the panel with a scene whose interpretation is difficult, perhaps a representation of the Temptations of Saint Anthony.

Of unknown provenance, the work has formed part of the Borghese Collection since at least 1693.

Object details

late 16th - early 17th century
Oil on panel
cm 12 (diametro)

19th-century frame (part of a polyptych, 28 x 181.5 x 4 cm


Borghese Collection, cited in Inv. 1693, room XI, nos 1-5; Inv. 1790, room VII, nos 77-78 (?); Inventario Fidecommissario Borghese 1833, p. 29, no. 64/66. Purchased by Italian state, 1902.

Conservation and Diagnostic
  • 1905 Luigi Bartolucci
  • 1958 Alvaro Esposti
  • 1992 Istituto Centrale del Restauro (pest control)


This round panel may have originally functioned as some sort of lid. It depicts a Landscape with the Flight into Egypt. In the foreground, Mary is seated on an ass which follows Joseph, who is dressed in red. The setting suggests a wintry climate. Several structures are visible in the composition: a white castle perched on a spur of rock dominates a small town rendered in reddish tones. A river, meanwhile, runs along the slopes of the hill.

While Venturi (1893, p. 199) and Longhi (1928, p. 218) ascribed the panel generally to the Flemish school, Della Pergola (1959, p. 157, n. 224) more specifically connected the painting to Jan Brueghel the Elder, basing her view on an entry in the 1833 Inventario Fidecommissario that described ‘a tondo of a small village, by Bragolo, on slate’. The scholar, however, excluded the possibility that the work is an original by Brueghel, maintaining rather that it is a derivation or a product of his circle.

The back of the panel contains a second painted image, whose subject cannot be easily deciphered. It is the work of another painter, perhaps from Flanders, and dates to a different era. The second composition shows a church in flames in the background on the right side, several black birds on the left, and some form of vegetation in the middle. Two figures are visible in the lower portion of the composition, one of which is perhaps a friar. The subject of this second painting may be the Temptations of Saint Anthony (see Della Pergola 1959, p. 167, n. 241). It was executed later than the Landscape with the Flight into Egypt, but certainly before 1693, when the panel appears for the first time in a Borghese inventory in the entry which reads, ‘two tondos, roughly half a span in diameter, one numbered 93, with villages [...], artists uncertain’. Confirmation that this entry corresponds to the panel in question is given by the number 93, which appears in the lower portion of the Landscape with the Flight into Egypt.

The panel is perhaps referred to in the 1790 inventory in the entry of ‘tondos with two small villages, manner of Brugolo’. The Inventario Fidecommissario cites only the work on the front of the panel, but erroneously gives the support material as slate.

If the Landscape with the Flight into Egypt is in fact a derivation from Brueghel, it can be dated to between the late 16th and early 17th centuries. The Church in Flames (Temptations of Saint Anthony?), meanwhile, was certainly executed later.


Pier Ludovico Puddu

  • G. Piancastelli, Catalogo dei quadri della Galleria Borghese in Archivio Galleria Borghese, 1891, p. 393;
  • A. Venturi, Il Museo e la Galleria Borghese, Roma 1893, p. 199;
  • R. Longhi, Precisioni nelle Gallerie Italiane, I, La R. Galleria Borghese, Roma 1928, p. 218;
  • P. Della Pergola, La Galleria Borghese. I Dipinti, II, Roma 1959, pp. 157, 167, nn. 224, 241;
  • K. Herrmann Fiore, Galleria Borghese Roma scopre un tesoro. Dalla pinacoteca ai depositi un museo che non ha più segreti, San Giuliano Milanese 2006, p. 137.