Holy Family with St John the Baptist Caravaggio Buy Art Prints Now
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Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on October 14, 2023
Email: [email protected] / Phone: +44 7429 011000

Holy Family with St John the Baptist is a specimen of Caravaggio's religious art, and a fine example of how he departed from Renaissance convention.

The subject matter, depicting Mary, Joseph and the Child Jesus, is familiar. And yet the execution is unusual. Once again Caravaggio surrounds the scene with darkness, making the exact location of the figures uncertain.

The viewer's eye is drawn immediately to the unclothed Jesus, whose exposed skin seems to glow, as though hewn from candlelit marble. Mary's face has a similar quality, although her clothing obscures this glow and ensures that she is a secondary focus.

Mary and Jesus embrace each other, while Joseph's arm encircles the entire group, his figure acting almost like the frame of a stained-glass window.

Typically, tenderness and warmth would have been the key note of this scene, but Caravaggio takes an unusual approach: the faces of the figures show anxiety; Jesus and Mary look away from each other, as though nervously glancing into the darkness around them. We see here, not the potential of a saviour, but a premonition of the trials and tribulations to come.

As one of the most striking pieces of Caravaggio's work, "Holy Family with St John the Baptist" stands as an eye-catching piece of art history. A print of this classic painting will certainly make a handsome addition to any household.

Caravaggio belongs to that elite caste of artists, those whose names are so well known that even those not familiar with the history of art will immediately recognise them. He was one of the main influences on the Baroque movement, a trend in art that emphasised striking drama - and in doing so, moved away from the Renaissance convention of depicting a scene immediately before a moment of drama occurs.

Caravaggio was an expert at capturing drama and action. His canvases show a strong, stark sense of composition, and an ability to draw the viewer's eye to the exact key part of the image. A significant part of this lies in Caravaggio's unsurpassed grasp of colour: a typical Caravaggio painting shows a scene bathed in blackness and shadow, while the richly-coloured figures almost glow from within the gloom, their skin and clothes reflecting the orange hue of candlelight.