The Holy Family, 1776. Gaetano Gandolfi (Italian, 1734-1802). Oil on canvas; framed: 105.5 x 87 x 6 cm (41 9/16 x 34 1/4 x 2 3/8 in.); unframed: 87 x 68.5 cm (34 1/4 x 26 15/16 in.). The Cleveland Museum of Art, John L. Severance Fund 1998.10
A work of Gandolfi's later years, the Holy Family was exhibited in the religious festival at the church of San Procolo in Bologna in 1776. The painting's balanced composition, along with the suggestion of emotional connections among the figures, expresses the religious honesty of Gandolfi's art. Here St. Joseph holds the scriptures for the Christ child, who sits on his mother's lap; the elderly Joseph also holds the flowering rod, a sign from heaven that he was chosen to be Mary's husband. Joseph looks with concern toward Mary, who in turn looks up toward the cherubim hovering in a cloud at the upper left. Viewers of the private devotional painting were meant to understand that the young Christ reads of his future in the gospels, and that the suffering he will endure is reflected in Mary's sad gaze.
Gandolfi was the most popular member of a prominent artistic family in Bologna. As both draftsman and painter he distinguished himself in religious, mythological, and genre subjects and was admired by his Italian and English patrons. He is known for his down-to-earth naturalism, typical of Bolognese art.
The frame—although modern—is a "Gandolfini," so-called because the style was created for paintings by members of the Gandolfi family.