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After Nicolas Poussin (?), 'The Holy Family with Saints Elizabeth and John', 18th century

Key facts
Full title The Holy Family with Saints Elizabeth and John
Artist After Nicolas Poussin (?)
Artist dates 1594 - 1665
Date made 18th century
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 68.6 × 50.8 cm
Acquisition credit Presented by Francis Turner Palgrave, 1894
Inventory number NG1422
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
The Holy Family with Saints Elizabeth and John
After Nicolas Poussin (?)

The Virgin’s cousin Saint Elizabeth kneels to present the infant Saint John the Baptist to the Christ Child, who is held by his mother. With its warm colours, golden light and sweet interaction between two infants, this intimate scene is very touching. Saint Joseph leans on what looks like a long ruler, and on the stone block behind him is a wooden T-square, a draughtsman’s tool for drawing accurate vertical and horizontal lines. These objects may allude to his mastery of mathematics and architecture rather than his more modest role as a carpenter.

The composition is classical in its simplicity and order, and the large, solid bodies and drapery folds which recall antique statues. The cracks in the stone columns and wall symbolise the collapse of pagan worship and the triumph of Christianity.

This looks like a painting by the seventeenth-century artist Nicolas Poussin, but it is actually an eighteenth- or nineteenth-century copy of a work by him.

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