The Holy Family with Saints Elizabeth and John the Baptist

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Peter Paul Rubens
Flemish, 1577–1640

The Holy Family with Saints Elizabeth and John the Baptist, c. 1615

Oil on panel
45 1/8 x 36 in. (114.5 x 91.5 cm)
Major Acquisitions Fund, 1967.229

This painting of the Holy Family is one of several completed in the decade after Peter Paul Rubens returned to his native Antwerp, following an eight-year stay in Italy. Fully immersed in Italian art, the prodigiously productive artist had acquired such facility in handling brush, color, figures, and drapery, and in arranging large-scale compositions, that he had no rival north of the Alps. Here he displayed these skills not only by bringing a sacred subject to life, but also by bringing it down to earth. Vital and believable Flemish figures fill the composition, which is dominated by the Virgin clad in a brilliant red dress. The bold, diagonal movement of the playful and charming infants is an effective counterbalance to the full, rounded figure of Mary. Saints Joseph (Mary’s husband) and Elizabeth (her cousin, and John’s mother) frame the dynamic pyramidal group as aged and more passive protectors. The atmosphere of joyful solemnity—of light, color, and life—is typical of Rubens and made him the quintessential Baroque artist, in demand as the designer of grand decorative schemes for churches and palaces across Europe.

— Entry, Essential Guide, 2009, p. 194.

Exhibition, Publication and Ownership Histories

Exhibition History

Los Angeles, Los Angeles County Museum, Loan Exhibition of Forty-Three Paintings by Rubens, and Twenty-Five Paintings by Van Dyck, November 19–December 22, 1946, no. 21.

New York, Wildenstein, A Loan Exhibition of Rubens for the Benefit of the Public Education Association, February 20–March 31, 1951, no. 12.

Chicago, The Art Institute of Chicago, "The Holy Family in Art," December, 1985.

Publication History

John Smith, A Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of the Most Eminent Dutch, Flemish, and French Painters, London, 1830, vol. 2, p. 246.

Max Rooses, L’Oeuvre de Peter Paul Rubens, vol. 1. Antwerp, 1886, p. 301, no. 227I.

Wilhelm R. Valentiner, “Rubens’ Paintings in America,” Art Quarterly 9 (1946), pp. 160, no. 69, fig.5.

Jan-Albert Goris and Julius S. Held, Rubens in America, New York, 1947, pp. 32–33, no. 46, plate 33.

Erik Larsen, P. P. Rubens, with a complete catalogue of his works in America, Antwerp: 1952, p. 217, no. 52.

Beneth A. Jones, The Bob Jones University Collection of Religious Paintings, Greenville, South Carolina, 1968, p. 50. `

Art Institute of Chicago, One hundred masterpieces, Chicago, 1978, pp. 52–53, no. 15.

John D. Morse, Old Master Paintings in North America, New York, 1979, p. 242.

Julius S. Held, The Oil Sketches of Peter Paul Rubens. A Critical Catalogue, Princeton, New Jersey, 1980, p. 645, under no. A41.

James N. Wood and Katherine C. Lee, Master Paintings in the Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, 1988, p. 28.

Michael Jaffé, Rubens, Catalogo Completo, trans. By Germano Mulazzani, Milan, 1989, p. 219, no. 376, fig. 376.

Jon Margolis, “Off-the-wall lessons in history: One man’s unorthodox view of the Art Institute,” Chicago Tribune Magazine, September 17, 1995, ill. on cover, p. 18.

Old Master Paintings, Drawings and Picture Frames, auction catalogue, Christie’s East, New York, November 13, 1997, under no. 48.

Ownership History

Jacques Langlier, Paris, who acquired it in three pieces and had it conserved by the successors to Godefroid before selling it to Antoine Poullain for 24,000 fr [annotation in the copy of the Poullain sale in the Philadelphia Museum of Art; information on this and related annotations in other copies of this sale catalogue were kindly supplied by Burton Fredericksen, email of December 13, 2013 in curatorial file; it was presumably at when the three vertical boards were reassembled that a narrow horizontal board was added across the top of the panel]; Antoine Poullain, Paris; sold J. B. P. Lebrun, Paris, March 15, 1780, lot 22 for 11,000 fr. to Orsay [according to annotated catalogue cited above and catalogue of the Orsay sale]; Comte d’Orsay, Paris, sold Basan, Paris, 14 April 1790, lot 65 [see also Rooses, 1886, p. 301]. The painting was taken to England but remained unsold and was returned to Paris [according to Smith 1830, p. 246, under no. 837]. Nicolas Lerouge; Paris, offered for sale January 16, 1816, lot 19, but bought in [according to annotated sale cat. at the Johnson Collection, Philadelphia Museum of Art (the name Castalan or Catalan is also mentioned as the consigner, see Rooses 1886, p. 301)]; Chevalier Sebastian Erard; his estate sale, Château de la Muette, August 7, 1832, lot no. 126, for 6,020 fr. to Hope [according to catalogue of Hope sale]; William Williams Hope, Rushton Hall, Northamptonshire; sold, Hôtel des Commissaries-Priseurs, Paris, May 11, 1858, lot no. 7 for 4200 fr. [annotated catalogue at the Frick Art Reference Library]. M. Thirion, Paris; sold Galerie Georges Petit, Paris, June 10, 1907, lot 17 for 59,000 fr. to de Jonghe [according to letter of May 2 from Julius Weitzner to Charles Cunningham in curatorial file, Paris; the painting has frequently been confused with the larger version on canvas formerly in the Marlborough and Butler collections, Rooses no. 227)]; S. de Jonghe, Paris (died c. 1943), who sent it to George Blumenthal in New York in 1938 [according to Weitzner letter cited above, noting that Blumenthal was de Jonghe’s partner at Lazard Frères]; transferred on de Jonghe’s death to Alavoine and Company for sale [letter of Julius Weitzner cited above]; sold to Julius H. Weitzner, London and New York by 1946 [he lent it to Los Angeles 1946]; given to his daughter Marjorie Weitzner Gambino, Rome, and sold on her behalf to the Art Institute, 1967.