The J. Paul Getty Museum

[Holy Family]

Object Details


[Holy Family]


Julia Margaret Cameron (British, born India, 1815 - 1879)




Freshwater, Isle of Wight, England (Place Created)




Albumen silver print

Object Number:



33.3 × 27 cm (13 1/8 × 10 5/8 in.)

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Object Description

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.


Virginia Woolf, British, 1882 - 1941

- 1974

Private Collection [sold, "Early Photographic Images and Related Material," Sotheby's Belgravia, London, March 8, 1974, lot 121, to Samuel Wagstaff, Jr.]

1974 - 1984

Samuel Wagstaff, Jr., American, 1921 - 1987, sold to the J. Paul Getty Museum, 1984.

Whisper of the Muse: The Work of Julia Margaret Cameron (September 10 to November 16, 1986)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum (Malibu), September 10 to November 16, 1986
Julia Margaret Cameron: The Creative Process (October 15, 1996 to May 3, 1998)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum (Malibu), October 15, 1996 to January 5, 1997
  • Art Gallery of Ontario (Toronto), February 4 to May 3, 1998
Julia Margaret Cameron: Nineteenth Century Photographic Genius (February 6 to August 30, 2003)
  • National Portrait Gallery (London), February 6 to May 18, 2003
  • National Museum of Photography, Film and Television (Bradford), June 5 to August 30, 2003
Julia Margaret Cameron, Photographer (November 21, 2003 to January 11, 2004)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center (Los Angeles), October 21, 2003 to January 11, 2004
The Pre-Raphaelite Lens: British Photography and Painting, 1848-1875 (October 31, 2010 to May 29, 2011)
  • National Gallery of Art (Washington, D.C.), October 31, 2010 to January 30, 2011
  • Musée d'Orsay (Paris), March 6 to May 29, 2011

Cox, Julian, and Colin Ford. Julia Margaret Cameron: The Complete Photographs. Joanne Lukitsh and Philippa Wright, contributors. (Los Angeles: The J. Paul Getty Museum, 2003), ill. p. 133, p. 154, cat. 92.

Ford, Colin, Julia Margaret Cameron: A Critical Biography (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2003).