The Holy Family on the Steps, 1648. Nicolas Poussin (French, 1594-1665). Oil on canvas; framed: 103.5 x 135.3 x 13.3 cm (40 3/4 x 53 1/4 x 5 1/4 in.); unframed: 73.3 x 105.8 cm (28 7/8 x 41 5/8 in.); former: 72.3 x 104 cm (28 7/16 x 40 15/16 in.). The Cleveland Museum of Art, Leonard C. Hanna, Jr. Fund 1981.18
This deceptively simple composition represents a complex meditation on the Holy Family’s role in the redemption of humanity. At the center, Mary presents the Christ Child to the world. At the left, Saint Elizabeth leans forward to foretell his eventual death, while her son, Saint John the Baptist, offers Jesus an apple, signifying humanity’s fall from grace in the Garden of Eden. At the right, Saint Joseph holds a compass, a sign of his occupation as a carpenter and also symbolic of God the Father. Poussin developed his composition meticulously and deliberately, using clear primary colors, simple forms, and a geometric organization to express the central importance of the Holy Family in Christian belief.
Framed: 103.5 x 135.3 x 13.3 cm (40 3/4 x 53 1/4 x 5 1/4 in.); Unframed: 73.3 x 105.8 cm (28 7/8 x 41 5/8 in.); Former: 72.3 x 104 cm (28 7/16 x 40 15/16 in.)
212 Baroque Painting and Sculpture
oil on canvas
Painted for Pierre Hennequin de Fresne (or version in Washington); [perhaps Reynière coll., Paris sale 1793; London sales 1797, 1801]; Lord Ashburton; J. Hervig-Smith, Devon (London sale 1908); (Quinto, Paris); Henri Lerolle (Paris sale 1944, as attributed); Bertin-Mourot coll. (no date)