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The Holy Family with the Infant St. John the Baptist and St. Elizabeth, 1650-51

Nicolas Poussin

French, 1594-1665
Oil on canvas
39-5/8 x 52-1/8 in. (100.6 x 132.4 cm)
Jointly owned by the Norton Simon Art Foundation, Pasadena and The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
M.1981.6.P
© Norton Simon Art Foundation

Not on view

Nicolas Poussin is considered to be one of the great French painters of the modern world. He is revered for developing a personal, innovative and rigorous style based on classical precedents and the High Renaissance. Through precisely orchestrated narratives, and the concentration of emotional response, Poussin produced paintings of outstanding originality.

This is one of Poussin’s most lyrical depictions of the Holy Family, a subject that occupied him during the 1650s. The Virgin and Saint Joseph look on as Saint John the Baptist and Christ playfully embrace. On the right is a procession of Christ’s first martyrs, the Holy Innocents. Their gestures point to the Christ Child, whose sacrifice on the cross will redeem their martyred souls. Two Innocents carry a basin with water, one carries a towel, which may refer to the Shroud of the Passion, and another kneels to adore the Holy Child. In the distance, a family in a boat, and two men on horseback, may recall the Holy Family’s flight into Egypt. The combination of figures and motifs in the composition suggest a message of purification and salvation.

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