Collection: Holy Family with Sts. Elizabeth and John the Baptist

ARTIST: Museum Religious Art Classics


Artist: Peter Paul Rubens – c. 1615

This painting of the Holy Family is one of several completed in the decade after Peter Paul Rubens returned to his native Antwerp, following an eight-year stay in Italy. Fully immersed in Italian art, the prodigiously productive artist had acquired such facility in handling brush, color, figures, and drapery and in arranging large-scale compositions that he was unrivaled north of the Alps. Here he displayed these skills not only by bringing a sacred subject to life but also by bringing it down to earth. Vital and believable Flemish figures fill the composition, which is dominated by the Virgin clad in a brilliant red dress.

The bold, diagonal movement of the playful infants is an effective counterbalance to the full, rounded figure of Mary. Joseph, and Elizabeth frame the pyramidal group as aged and more passive protectors. The atmosphere of joyful solemnity—of light, color, and life—is typical of Rubens and made him the quintessential Baroque artist, in demand as the designer of grand decorative schemes for churches and palaces across Europe.