'I think the sublime, dancing angel gently guiding the Holy Family into Egypt is the most beautiful passage of painting I could ever hope to see.’

The Flight into Egypt, 1544–45, by Jacopo Bassano (1510–92), 5ft by 7½ft, Norton Simon Art Foundation, Pasadena, California, USA

The Flight into Egypt, 1544–45, by Jacopo Bassano (1510–92), 5ft by 7½ft, Norton Simon Art Foundation, Pasadena, California, USA

Simon Dickinson chooses The Flight into Egypt by Jacopo Bassano

‘I first saw this painting as a young man in 1969, just starting out on my career in the art world. It was sold at auction to the great American collector Norton Simon.

‘I have been to visit it in Los Angeles many, many times over the years, forever learning from this most underrated master. Like a true Venetian, Bassano was obsessed with brilliant, luminous colours that flood the canvas.

‘I think the sublime, dancing angel gently guiding the Holy Family into Egypt is the most beautiful passage of painting I could ever hope to see.’

Simon Dickinson is an Old Master expert and chairman of the Dickinson Gallery, London SW1, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year

John McEwen comments on The Flight into Egypt

Jacopo da Ponte learned his trade from his father, who took his professional name from Bassano near Venice (as did his son and grandsons), where he had a workshop. He completed his training in Venice under Bonifazio de Pitati, follower of his Venetian contemporaries Giorgione and Titian, all of whose influences the young Jacopo eagerly imbibed.

When his father died, he assumed control of the Bassano workshop. He married a local girl and would eventually die in his home city, although, with the aid of the family’s four artist sons, he had extended the business to include another workshop in Venice. The sophistication he learnt there was embellished with the years.

Bassano was a pioneer of scenes from everyday life, distinguished by a rustic fondness for animals as well as of landscape painting in its own right, being among the first to popularise night scenes or nocturnes.

It is indicative of his standing that Veronese, in his Wedding Feast at Cana, imagined Bassano in a musical quartet whose principals were Titian and Tintoretto.

The Flight into Egypt was painted at about the time of Bassano’s own marriage. It is only in Matthew’s Gospel that Herod, King of Judea, massacred the babies in and around Bethlehem to ensure he had killed the future ‘King of the Jews’, whose prophesied birth had been franked by the arrival of the ‘three wise men from the east’ (Matthew 2:1).

Jesus survived thanks to the dream in which ‘the angel of the Lord’ (2:13) exhorted Joseph to flee with his family to the safety of Egypt. However we interpret the released/escaping cockerels and the downed drink, the angel leads the way.