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How the “Holy family” was depicted by famous painters of the 17th and 18th centuries

The Christmas theme in the painting of the XVII-XVIII centuries was very relevant. This is partly due to the period after the Renaissance (when artistic talents manifested themselves in a variety of styles, directions, and interpretations most vividly). Especially interesting is the theme of the Holy family in the works of artists Rembrandt and Pompeo Batoni.

Rembrandt “the Holy family” 1645.
Rembrandt van Rijn was born in 1606. He is one of the most outstanding artists in Europe and the greatest in the Netherlands. His paintings cover a wide range of different genres-portraits, landscapes, religious and historical paintings. In his works, he used chiaroscuro and various lighting and paint techniques. In the 1640s, Rembrandt produced several works on the subject of the Holy Family. The world of harmony and love, lost after the death of his beloved wife Saskia, was revived in his life with the appearance of Hendrikje Stoffels. This happiness of the artist was shown in the “Holy family”. A number of art historians believe that the features of Hendrikje can be seen on the face of the virgin Mary, and sleeping in the cradle of a small child-the prototype of Titus, the son of Rembrandt and Saskia.

In his painting “the Holy family” (1645), Rembrandt depicted the family as if the artist went to visit a Dutch family of the XVII century and decided to capture them on canvas. For example, a wicker cot can be attributed to the Rembrandt period due to its similar use by another artist of the period, Peter de Huh. The scene with the “Holy family” is one of Rembrandt’s most striking attempts to show light differently in his paintings. Here Rembrandt depicted three sources of light:

– illuminated angels (accompanied by divine light from heaven),
– illuminated face of Mary and the cradle of Jesus (firelight),
– Joseph’s desktop (the source is probably a window).

The virgin Mary is sitting on a low chair, holding a large open book in her left hand. She looks up from her reading, carefully lifts the curtain of the cradle, and bends down to carefully check the baby’s sleep. Her face radiates the light of love and tenderness. In the foreground is the carpentry workshop of Joseph, who is busy with his work. In the cradle, a baby covered in a red blanket snores softly. Maria is dressed in a dark red dress and dark blue skirt, her head is covered with a white handkerchief. Behind her, in the half-light, Joseph, in a brown work dress, forms the yoke with his axe. At the top of the picture, the audience sees floating angels watching Jesus. The viewer also sees the artist’s signature in the lower left corner (“Rembrandt 1645”).
For sure, the first emotion of looking at the picture is an incredibly warm and homely atmosphere. “Fluffiness” and softness are felt in the brownish gloom and peacefully penetrating pure Golden light that accompanies the little angels. One of the angels is depicted in the crucifixion position on the cross.

The chiaroscuro technique was particularly evident in the work of Pompeo Batoni, who created his own version of the”Holy family”.

Pompeo Girolamo Batoni “the Holy family” (1777)
Pompeo Girolamo Batoni (1708-1787) was one of the most famous Italian artists of his time, and his patrons and collectors were royalty and aristocrats from all over Europe. The fame and reputation of the master significantly weakened in the XIX century and increased again by the XX century.
An Italian painter and draughtsman, the son of a prominent goldsmith, Pompeo is called “the last old master of Italy”, and he was indeed one of the last great Italian masters to work in Rome. In addition, Batoni was the leading portrait painter of the XVIII century in Rome, as well as the highest master of allegorical and mythological works. Pompeo became famous primarily as a religious historian.
The first exhibition dedicated to Pompeo Batoni was held in his hometown of Lucca in 1967, the other two were organized in London and new York in 1982. The large number of foreign visitors traveling throughout Italy and reaching Rome during their “Grand Tour” forced the artist to specialize in portraits. Although Batoni was considered the best Italian artist of his time, contemporary Chronicles mention his creative rivalry with Anton Raphael Mengs. Batoni drew inspiration from elements of classical antiquity, French Rococo, Bolognese classicism, as well as the works of Nicolas Poussin, Claude Lorrain and especially Raphael. Now Pompeo Batoni is considered a precursor of Neoclassicism.

The large canvas “the Holy family” (1777) was created by Pompeo Batoni not by order, but for himself. He wrote and kept it in his Studio for 5 years until the heir to the Russian throne, Tsarevich Pavel Petrovich, and his wife Maria Feodorovna (1728) visited it. They bought the painting they liked as a gift to their mother, Empress Catherine II. The picturesque elements inherent in Batoni are very clearly shown in this work: smooth dense paint overlay, elegant sound of color, remarkable purity of the drawing.

The figures of Mary with the infant in her arms and the boy John the Baptist are somewhat abstract in their perfection. The audience recognizes the young John by his wool clothes and the cross in his hands. Batoni is one of the creators of classicism, but his art never belonged to this style completely. In “the Holy family” a whole plot is created – Joseph, who reads the Bible and casually looks at Jesus, Elizabeth, who wants to take the child in her arms. Maria is dressed modestly: she wears a beige and gold shawl, a sky-blue mantle, and a pink dress. The artist has used a rich palette of contrasting, emphasizing the figure of Mary with the Infant by using black and white technique.

Pompeo made it clear that these are the main characters of the picture. The viewer sees the baby in a white dress (this white color is created masterfully, the glow emphasizes the sanctity of its hero). Skin Mladenca the lightest and mildest of all tones of the characters (this is very significant). The interior is particularly attractive: the table where Joseph sits is covered with a red carpet and decorated with a lovely bouquet of roses and lilies. Both flowers are symbols of Mary, but at the same time the bouquet gives a special comfort to the atmosphere of the room and complements the composition.

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