Cameron would have been interested in that notion of the holy family as working class, humble, peasant people. She used her maid Mary Hillier as Mary Madonna, and two local children as John the Baptist and Jesus. I think she was interested in that contradiction between the high and the low--between the clean and the dirty, the mortal and the divine, the ordinary and the extraordinary.
--Victoria Olsen, From Life: Julia Margaret Cameron and Victorian Photography
Soft-focus and dramatic lighting imbue this photograph with a painterly quality reminiscent of works by Renaissance artists. At least that may have been Julia Margaret Cameron's intention as part of her strategy to elevate photography to the status of high-art. By contrast, Cameron's subjects--the Madonna with infants Jesus and John the Baptist--appear humble in their simple clothing and quiet demeanor.
Cameron's interest in the working-class origins of the Holy Family stemmed from contemporary biblical scholarship and art that focused on the historical context of Christ's life, frequently portraying him as a carpenter's son.