The donkey is a familiar presence in pictures of the Flight into Egypt, and its inclusion  echoes the entry into Jerusalem towards the end of Christ's life. But there are other animals, and the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew suggests there may have been lots of them:

   Lions and panthers adored Him likewise, and accompanied them in the desert. Wherever Joseph and the blessed Mary went, they went before them showing them the way, and bowing their heads; and showing their submission by wagging their tails, they adored Him with great reverence. Now at first, when Mary saw the lions and the panthers, and various kinds of wild beasts, coming about them, she was very much afraid. But the infant Jesus looked into her face with a joyful countenance, and said: Be not afraid, mother; for they come not to do thee harm, but they make haste to serve both thee and me. With these words He drove all fear from her heart. And the lions kept walking with them, and with the oxen, and the asses, and the beasts of burden which carried their baggage, and did not hurt a single one of them, though they kept beside them; but they were tame among the sheep and the rams which they had brought with them from Judaea, and which they had with them. They walked among wolves, and feared nothing; and no one of them was hurt by another. Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by the prophet: Wolves shall feed with lambs; the lion and the ox shall eat straw together. There were together two oxen drawing a waggon with provision for the journey, and the lions directed them in their path. (Ch 19)

   And when they saw the spring of water, they rejoiced with great joy, and were satisfied, themselves and all their cattle and their beasts.' (Ch 20)

   Not even the most enthusiastic of Dutch animal painters included this lot, but some other animals do appear. Angelo Caroselli has a small herd of sheep, and Wolf Huber includes an ox. This relates to yet another legend attached to the Flight into Egypt story - that the ox and the ass from the nativity came along too. Is this an ass rather than a donkey? Not sure!


Angelo Caroselli
Rest on the Flight into Egypt
Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica, Rome

Wolf Huber

Gemäldegalerie, Dresden

   This painting by Albrecht Durer includes, uniquely as far as I am aware, a unicorn in the background The Unicorn is a traditional symbol of virginity, but not even the author of the Gospel of  Pseudo-Matthew thought to include one. 

Durer: The Seven Sorrows of the Virgin: The Flight into Egypt
Gemäldegalerie, Dresden


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