Scenes from the Bible are amply represented in the genre of narrative or ‘history’ painting. The majority of the medieval paintings feature episodes from the life of Christ and the Virgin Mary derived from the New Testament. There are around 30 panels from the 15th century, most of which represent the birth and the crucifixion of Christ and were produced in the Netherlands and Italy as parts of altarpieces. In the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance, the summarily rendered Bible stories were amplified with all manner of figures and details. Splendid examples are Jan Brueghel’s Flight into Egypt and Ludovico Mazzolino’s Massacre of the Innocents. Painters also increasingly depicted scenes from the Old Testament, as evidenced by Jacob Cornelis van Oostsaenen’s Salome and the Head of John the Baptist, a powerful biblical woman, and Lucas van Leyden’s Dance around the Golden Calf.
After the Reformation images of saints disappeared from the churches and painted biblical stories increasingly assumed the role of ‘wise lessons’, such as in Hendrick Goltzius’ Lot and his Daughters. In addition, greater emphasis was placed on the emotions of the figures, who come alive in Rembrandt’s Jeremiah and Govert Flinck’s Isaac Blessing Jacob.