National Gallery of Art - THE COLLECTION
image of The Holy Family with Saint Anne and the Infant John the Baptist El Greco (Domenikos Theotokopoulos)
El Greco (painter)
Greek, 1541 - 1614
The Holy Family with Saint Anne and the Infant John the Baptist, c. 1595/1600
oil on canvas
overall: 53.2 x 34.4 cm (20 15/16 x 13 9/16 in.) framed: 73 x 54.6 x 6.4 cm (28 3/4 x 21 1/2 x 2 1/2 in.)
Samuel H. Kress Collection
1959.9.4
Not on View
From the Tour: El Greco
Object 5 of 8

A visitor to El Greco's studio wrote of seeing small versions of the painter's most famous works. They provided models for clients who wished to have copies made—such as the smaller Saint Martin painting also in the National Gallery of Art collection—and they also allowed the artist to work out compositional changes. Though unfinished, The Holy Family is essentially a record of the larger original and a basis for a second version. In this painting El Greco experimented with the figure of Saint Joseph, making him older than in other versions. This reflects debate in the Spanish church about Joseph's age at the time of his marriage to the Virgin.

This scene, in which the Virgin's mother, Saint Anne, and the infant John the Baptist join Mary and Joseph in admiring the sleeping Jesus, is not described in the Bible. It is one of El Greco's many inventions intended to further the aims of the Counter-Reformation. The complex symbolism of the Holy Family suggests Christ's eventual death and resurrection, hinted at by the infant's deep sleep and by the way he lies in his mother's lap. This pose, known in Italian as the pietà (pity), is most often used to show the Virgin holding her son's body after his crucifixion.

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