The painting depicts the biblical story in which Joseph, Mary, and the infant Jesus flee from King Herod’s impending massacre of Jerusalem’s infant boys in an attempt to kill the prophesied King of the Jews (Matthew 2:13-23). The ancient tale of religious persecution and political emigration must have seemed particularly relevant during World War I.
Filonov altered the biblical story by inserting a shirtless man whose role in the narrative remains enigmatic. His appearance, particularly the African facial features and feathered headgear, suggests that the artist combined elements from different cultures which he is likely to have seen in the ethnographical museum in St. Petersburg.
The painter created the composition according to his artistic philosophy which he called Analytic art. This art features meticulously executed tiny, but colorful facets covering the whole surface. They emulate endlessly dividing cells symbolizing the eternal transition of states in nature. In contrast, the figures, rendered with neo-primitivist roughness, demonstrate the misery of humans.
According to John Bowlt The Flight into Egypt is one of three known paintings in the United States by this important artist. It is one of the highlights among the many treasures of the Mead’s Russian collection.
BJ and Kate Eisen, Russian Art Intern 2010