Little is known about the early life of the Flemish painter Karel Philips Spierincx. His date and place of birth are unknown; however as he was registered as a pupil of Michiel de Bourdoes in 1612 and later on became a member of the Brussels guild of St Luke in 1622, a date of birth ca. 1600 is generally proposed. By 1623 Spierincks was in Rome, where he lived on the Via Frattina and studied with the well-known and well-connected Flemish landscape painter Paul Bril. In 1624 he was recorded as living in the Via Vittoria, just a few steps from the Piazza di Spagna, where he shared a palazzo with the Flemish sculptor François Duquesnoy. In 1634/35 he paid dues to the Accademia di San Luca, although not as a member. Spierincks continued living and working in Rome until his early death in 1639; he was buried at the Campo Santo dei Teutonici e dei Fiamminghi, a burial ground reserverd for northerners near St Peter's Basilica.
Interestingly, the French classicist painter Nicolas Poussin was also recorded as living with Duquesnoy, in 1626. Spierincks and Poussin thus must have known each other well, a fact that is also attested by the enormous influence the latter had on the former. Our painter mostly produced large-scale mythological and religious pictures on canvas, of which the present work is a beautiful example. He was obviously intimately acquainted with the respective oeuvres of his two housemates, as he combined Duquesnoy's classicism and frolicking putti with Poussin's colour palette and idyllic, bucolic settings. While at the same time, in Flanders, painting was completely geared towards Rubens' exuberant baroque style idiom (which would remain the case for decades to come), Spierincks was already a purely classicist painter, producing what must have been considered cutting-edge contemporary art.
Due to his untimely death and his preference for painting large-scale works, works by Spierincks are rare. On his death, Spierincks left incomplete paintings for the sacristy of Santa Maria dell'Anima.These paintings have not survived although one of them, a Saint Norbert, was recorded on 2 March 1643 in the house of 'Petrus Piscator' i.e. Peter Visscher (or Pieter de Vischere), an Italian banker and patron of Flemish origin. Spierincks' Venus with Satyrs and Cupids in the Royal Collection at Buckingham Palace (inv. no. RCIN 405568) was an important work in reconstructing his oeuvre, which was first undertaken by Anthony Blunt in the 1960's. It was acquired in 1662 by Charles II, attesting to the importance given to Spierincks' work at the time. Quite a few of his paintings are in museums, such as his Jupiter and Callisto in the Philadelphia Museum of Art (acc. no. 32.100.37), his Bound Silenus (inv. no. 12244) in the Royal Museum of Fine Arts of Brussels and his Pan playing the Flute for Dancing Putti in the Pinacoteca Manfrediana in Venice.
The present work is an important addition to the oeuvre of this rare painter, with its obvious references to Poussin and Duquesnoy fused into a new wholly idiosyncratic style. Set in an arcadian landscape, the Holy Family is depicted during the rest on the flight into Egypt. It is a scene filled with tenderness and serenity, the putti picking cherries which Joseph lovingly hands his infant child, while an Italianate landscape unfolds to the right, drawing the eye in. To the left, we can see the infant St John the Baptist, holding the lamb which is also referenced in the banner draped around the simple cross in the foreground. Inscribed 'Ecce Agnus Dei', it already foreshadows the less idyllic episodes awaiting the infant Christ.