Click on the picture to see an enlarged version.
François Boucher, the son of a designer of lace, was born in Paris into the artisan class. He studied first with the painter François Le Moyne (see some of his works on the rococo page), but was most influenced by the delicate style of his contemporary Antoine Watteau.
In 1723 Boucher won the Prix de Rome which allowed him to study in Rome from 1727 to 1731. There he was particularly impressed by colorful baroque religious paintings. After his return to France, he first turned to religious subject, and this is an excellent example of his work in that field.
It depicts a popular legend which builds upon the sparse treatment in the Bible of the Flight into Egypt. Late medieval and renaissance painters frequently painted scenes depicting the holy family resting on this long trip by which they were fleeing the fury of the Jewish king. But Boucher has gone way beyond a simple picture of a resting family group. Here are hosts of angels and, rather inexplicably, John the Baptist as a baby playing with Jesus. Joseph seems to be doing all the work, while Mary rests on a cloud intent on her prayers and is accompanied by a sheep -- perhaps a gift from one of those Bethlehem shepherds, but certainly not part of the biblical account.