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.