Holy Family

Hey everyone! Since the feast day of St. Joseph is coming up on March 19th, I wanted to include some artworks that reflect on him. St. Joseph was a patron of many things, and one of these was the patron of fathers. This gave me the idea of creating a blog post based on not only St. Joseph but the Holy Family!

The subject of the Holy Family revolves around Mary, Jesus (usually in the form of a baby or child), and Joseph. This scene has a layer of meaning in religion, one of them being the image of the family. St. Joseph was the stepfather of Christ because he loved Mary and Christ. But this family dynamic also made it seem as though Joseph was the father of Christ; therefore, this dynamic covered, for some time, that Christ was the Son of God.

Bartolomé Murillo, Holy Family with a Little Bird, 1650


Here we see a glimpse of the Holy Family enjoying their time together. They are unaware of us; we are simply observing a family moment. St. Joseph is holding onto Christ. Christ holds a goldfinch bird. The goldfinch is a reference to Christ’s Passion because goldfinches ate thorns, and that references the Crown of Thorns. Christ is also engaging with the dog, which I don’t think I’ve ever seen in an image of the Holy Family or Christ! I think by having Christ be a baby and by having a dog, Murillo creates a cute setting for the family. Lastly, Mary is in the corner. She seems to be doing housework stuff. She is seated near clothes. Both Joseph and Mary are focusing on baby Jesus.

Martin Schongauer, The Holy Family, 1480-90


This painting was done during the Northern Renaissance. Here Mary and Christ are the focal focus. They are both focusing on a branch of grapes. There is also a basket of grapes on the flower with a stick. Grapes refer to the Blood of Christ, and the stick possibly references the Crown of Thorns. On Mary’s lap you see a golden prayer book. St. Joseph is in the corner holding hay. Right next to him are two oxen. He is looking at either Mary and Christ or the grapes (it is a little difficult to tell). You can see that Schongauer represents Mary and Christ as young and very pale, while Joseph shows age and wrinkles. He may be addressing the fact that Joseph was much older, or he may be showing Mary and Christ as ideal.

Workshop of Raphael, The Holy Family, 1510


The next painting I found was done in the workshop of Raphael. Because of the sharp white sheets and placement of the baby, you can see that Christ is the main focus. Mary is also taking up a large amount of the painting, and she stands out with her red attire. St. Joseph, however, is a bit hazy, undefined, and hidden in the light. Mary plays with Christ and her veil. The viewers are definitely being invited to engage with this work. This is shown by having the bed be slighted towards us, as if we are next to the bed.

I adore the soft quality of the figures that are so prominent in here and in Raphael’s artworks.

Bartolomé Murillo, Holy Family with the Holy Spirit / The Heavenly and Earthly Trinities, 1675–1682


Lastly, this painting represents the Holy Family in a very different way than usual. Here we have a scene after the return of Jesus from the Temple. This painting has the Holy Family as the Earthy Trinity, or model family. Murillo also includes the Heavenly Trinity: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This is definitely a creative way to represent the Holy Family and the Trinity. Christ shows us that he is the essential figure for both Earth and Heaven.

I love looking at ways that artist take the same subject and story matters and represent them in original ways. I think this is what makes the art field so interesting.

Jacob Jordaens, The Holy Family with Saint John, His Parents, and Angels, 1616-17

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