Joos Van Cleve
The Holy Family, about 1520
oil on panel
29 1/4 in. x 22 in.
The Christ Child swims across the picture, happily playing with his mother’s prayer beads. Gazing upon him with tenderness, the humble Virgin is resplendent. Take a look at her crown of light, enhanced by the dark backdrop and mirrored in the veil’s transparent folds. And in the beautiful outdoor day, a realistically rendered Joseph reads the “Magnificat,” a hymn of praise by Mary to God.
There are wonderful details to discover in this painting, from the cloud flourishes to the foreground objects, each of which is charged with religious meaning. The concrete world is so dazzling that it becomes otherworldly, revealing the hand of God to the faithful in 16th-century Flanders, where the artist worked. In a delightful interpretation of Christ’s humanity and divinity, the patterns of his halo spill over onto Joseph’s blue turtleneck and the miniature landscape like runaway curls.