The Holy Family
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Jan Gossaert
Netherlandish, about 1507 - 1508
Oil on panel

18 1/8 x 13 1/4 in.

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Elegance, sophistication, and worldliness define this portrayal of Mary, Joseph, and the Christ Child. Embedded in a fantastic cityscape with an elaborate fountain, the half-hidden figure of Joseph draws the viewer's attention, as do the lilies symbolizing the Virgin's purity in the right foreground. Contemporary taste in Antwerp and Brussels, where this painting was probably made, demanded that nearly every inch of a picture be filled with activity or ornament and that it be as ornate and decorative as possible. Even Mary's headdress provided an opportunity for an eye-catching, energetic shape fluttering against the flowering vines.

Jan Gossaert set the figures in an inventive complex of pseudo-antique architecture, indicating his general awareness of Italian styles, probably gained through prints from Italy, which often circulated in Northern Europe, rather than from actual experience.