The Holy Family

Object Details


The Holy Family


Nicolas Poussin (French, 1594 - 1665)




about 1651


Oil on canvas


100.6 x 132.4 cm (39 5/8 x 52 1/8 in.)

Credit Line:

Owned jointly with the Norton Simon Art Foundation, Pasadena

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Nicolas Poussin was highly revered in his own time for his religious and historical paintings, painted in a classical style based on antique and High Renaissance art. Made late in Poussin's life, this meticulously ordered composition reveals the artist's rational inclination.

Poussin placed the Holy Family in an idealized landscape with sixteenth-century Italianate buildings. The Virgin Mary sits in the center, but the action focuses on the embrace shared by Jesus Christ and John the Baptist. To the left, Saint Elizabeth gazes steadily at Mary, perhaps foreseeing her future suffering. Saint Joseph leans against a wall and smiles approvingly at the scene below.

Putti or infant boys pay homage to Christ by bringing gifts. One putto crosses his arms across his chest in adoration, and another putto kneels, spilling a basket of flowers on the ground before Christ. Others carry a ewer, a towel, and a basin of water, which may refer to the bathing of the child or to John's later baptism of Christ.

In the middle distance a man ferries a woman across a lake, possibly alluding to the Holy Family's Flight into Egypt, a theme popularized by Poussin and others in the 1600s.

about 1651 -

Charles, third duke of Créquy, died 1687 (Artois-Picardie, France), commissioned from the artist, about 1651.

possibly by about 1713 -

Raoul de La Porte (Paris, France)

by 1761 - 1764

William Cavendish, fourth duke of Devonshire, 1720 - 1764 (Chatsworth, Derbyshire, England), by inheritance to William Cavendish, 1764.

1764 - 1811

William Cavendish, fifth duke of Devonshire, 1748 - 1811 (Chatsworth, Derbyshire, England), by inheritance to William George Spencer Cavendish, 1811.

1811 - 1858

William George Spencer Cavendish, sixth duke of Devonshire, 1790 - 1858 (Devonshire House, London, England; Chatsworth, Derbyshire, England), by inheritance to William Cavendish, 1858.

1858 - 1891

William Cavendish, seventh duke of Devonshire, 1808 - 1891 (Chatsworth, Derbyshire, England), by inheritance to Spencer Compton Cavendish, 1891.

1891 - 1908

Spencer Compton Cavendish, eighth duke of Devonshire, 1833 - 1908 (Chatsworth, Derbyshire, England), by inheritance to Victor Christian William Cavendish, 1908.

1908 - 1938

Victor Christian William Cavendish, ninth duke of Devonshire, 1868 - 1938 (Chatsworth, Derbyshire, England), by inheritance to Edward William Spencer Cavendish, 1938.

1938 - 1950

Edward William Spencer Cavendish, tenth duke of Devonshire, 1895 - 1950 (Chatsworth, Derbyshire, England), by inheritance to Andrew Robert Buxton Cavendish, 1950.

1950 - 1981

Andrew Robert Buxton Cavendish, eleventh duke of Devonshire, English, 1920 - 2004 (Chatsworth, Derbyshire, England) [sold, Devonshire sale, Christie's, London, April 10, 1981, lot 100, to the Norton Simon Museum and the J. Paul Getty Museum.]

1981 -

The Norton Simon Foundation (Pasadena, California)

1981 -

and The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center

French Art 1600 - 1800 (1938) (Cat. 18)
  • Bristol Museum and Art Gallery, (Bristol), 1938
Loan Exhibition of French Painting of the XVIIth Century (June 20 to July 31, 1947) (Cat. 34)
  • Wildenstein & Co. (London), June 20 to July 31, 1947
Pictures from the Devonshire Collection (1948) (Cat. 20)
  • Thomas Agnew & Sons, Ltd., (London), 1948
Exhibition of Landscape in French Art (December 10, 1949 to March 5, 1950) (Cat. 70)
  • Royal Academy of Arts (London), December 10, 1949 to March 5, 1950
Paintings from Chatsworth House (1954 to 1955) (Cat. 26)
  • Leeds City Art Gallery, (Leeds), 1954 to 1955
European Old Masters (1957) (Cat. 134)
  • Manchester Art Gallery, (Manchester), 1957
Treasures from Chatsworth: the Devonshire Inheritance (1979 to 1980) (Cat. 32)
  • Royal Academy of Arts (London), 1979 to 1981
  • Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, (Richmond), 1979 to 1981
Nicolas Poussin 1594 - 1665 (September 27, 1994 to April 9, 1995) (Cat. 210)
  • Galeries nationales du Grand Palais, (Paris), September 27, 1994 to January 2, 1995
  • Royal Academy of Arts (London), January 19 to April 9, 1995
A Painting in Focus: Nicolas Poussin's Holy Family on the Steps (November 14, 1999 to February 23, 2000) (No cat. no.)
  • The Cleveland Museum of Art, (Cleveland), November 14, 1999 to February 23, 2000

Waagen, Gustav Friedrich. Treasures of Art in Great Britian: Being an Account of the Chief Collections of Paintings, Drawings, Sculptures, Illuminated Mss., &c., &c. 3 vols. (London: John Murray, 1854), vol. 3, p. 347.

Hoving, Thomas. "Money and Masterpieces." Connoisseur 216, no. 899 (December 1986), p. 97.

Reinewald, Chris. "Musea en Galeries in Amerika. Het Getty Museum: Een Romeinse villa aan de Pacific Coast." Tableau 9, no. 4 (February 1987), pp. 65, 67.

Rosenberg, Pierre, and Marion C. Stewart. French Paintings, 1500-1825: The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco (San Francisco: The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, 1987), p. 88.

Fredericksen, Burton B. Masterpieces of Painting in the J. Paul Getty Museum. Rev. ed. (Malibu: J. Paul Getty Museum, 1988), unpaginated, no. 33, ill.

Fredericksen, Burton B., et al. Masterpieces of Painting in the J. Paul Getty Museum. 3rd ed. (Malibu: J. Paul Getty Museum, 1995), unpaginated, no. 32, ill., entry by Burton B. Fredericksen.

Jaffé, David. Summary Catalogue of European Paintings in the J. Paul Getty Museum (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 1997), p. 99, ill.

The J. Paul Getty Museum Handbook of the Collections. 6th ed. (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2001), p. 127, ill.

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