This dramatic rendition of The Flight into Egypt is an exceptionally fine example of the work that secured Valerio Castello’s reputation as one of the most original Genoese artists of the mid-seventeenth century. The painting, his grandest treatment of the subject, is imbued with the elegant lyricism that defined the work of the artist’s full maturity and reveals the increasing influence of Rubens in the last decade of his life. The rhythmic movement of the Holy Family’s procession is described with energetic brushwork and a palette, much influenced by van Dyck, flickering with deep reds, yellows, and blues. The protagonists are enveloped by the over-hanging palm tree from which the Christ Child and Saint Joseph are both shown picking dates, an episode taken from the expanded account of the Flight into Egypt in the apocryphal book of Pseudo-Matthew.
Castello’s highly individual style was forged through an assimilation of influences from Parma, the Milanese School, and the colony of northern painters contributing to the flourishing artistic life in Genoa at that time. After training in the workshops of Domenico Fiasella and later Giovanni Andrea de’Ferrari, he travelled to Milan and Parma between 1640-45, where he furthered his knowledge of Giulio Cesare Procaccini and studied the work of Correggio and Parmigianino. As his biographer noted, Castello's unique idiom 'came to form a new style which encompassed the taste of his predecessors and yet had a certain grace which might be called Valerian' (R. Soprani and C.G. Ratti, Vite de' pittori, scultori, ed architetti, Genoa, 1768, I, p. 342).
Castello painted two distinct compositions on the theme of this subject, one of horizontal and one of vertical format. The vertical format, which exists in two versions (in Palazzo Bianco, Genoa and in a private collection, Genoa), has been dated by Camillo Manzitti to the mid-1640s (C. Manzitti, Valerio Castello, Turin, 2004, pp. 170-171, nos. 170 & 171). The composition for this picture was known to Manzitti from a bozzetto, once in the collection of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and now in a private Genoese collection, which he dates to the middle of the following decade (ibid., pp. 171-172, no. 172).