According to the Gospel by Matthew, at the time of Jesus’ birth, king Herod having learned of the birth of a child destined to become the ‘King of the Jews’ and fearing that his power would be usurped, ordered the massacre of all male newborns in Bethlehem. Warned in a dream by an angel, Joseph saved Jesus and his mother by fleeing with them to Egypt where they stayed until Herod’s death. The episode, summarily described by Matthew, was amplified in the apocryphal gospels that became the preferred source for the artistic depictions of the theme. French and Italian 17th and 18th century painters often highlighted the adventurous aspect of the flight, showing the Holy family on board a vessel guided by a ferryman.


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