This small canvas is a preliminary study for the painting Fuga da Sacra Família para o Egito, executes by Almeida Junior during the time he spent in Paris on na art grant from Emperor Dom Pedro II, when he worked under the orientation of the french máster Alexandre Cabanel (1823-1889). When he returned to Brazil, in 1882, the artist offered the final, large scale canvas to the Emperor. In 1884, the work became part of the collection of the Museu Nacional de Belas Artes in Rio de Janeiro.
This episode, very common in the history of art, is narrated in the Gospel according to Matthew: “When thy had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. ‘Get up’, he said ‘take the child and his mother and escape do egypt.stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.’ So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt” (Mt 2, 13-14).
The study portrays Jesus’ mother, Mary, Seated on a small mule that is drinking water from a puddle, holding her son in her lap while he plays with her veil. Joseph, who is accompanying them on foot and carrying a bundle on a staff over his left shoulder, looks on from where he is standing at the animal’s side. The group is pictured against the light of the setting sun and organized in a pyramidal arrangement. The same for mis repeated on a smaller scale in the sphinx and the pyramid in the background, indicating that the Family is already in Egypt. A figure, possibly an angel, hovers over the center group. According to oral tradition, as related by Afonsi d’Escragnolle Taunay(1876-1958), Cabanel advised his pupil to remove it. In this beautiful study, Almeida Junior managed to create an atmosphere of Peace and tranquility by means of Earth tones, pinks, whites and yellows. He presents lighting effects in a very fluente way, in keeping with the artist’s frequent approximation with the French impressionist movement.