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Andrea Mantegna, The Holy Family with Saint John the Baptist

Key facts
Full title The Holy Family with Saint John the Baptist
Artist Andrea Mantegna
Artist dates about 1431 - 1506
Date made about 1500
Medium and support Glue size on canvas
Dimensions 71.1 × 50.8 cm
Acquisition credit Mond Bequest, 1924; entered the Collection in 1946
Inventory number NG5641
Location Room 10
Collection Main Collection
The Holy Family with Saint John the Baptist
Andrea Mantegna

Christ is shown standing on the ledge of an oval structure, perhaps a well. He holds a crystal orb topped with jewels in his left hand and an olive branch in his right; he looks like a king or a Roman emperor. His very fine tunic clings to his body and we can see his little pot belly beneath it.

Christ’s cousin, Saint John the Baptist, stands to his right. He points at Christ, an indication of his role as his forerunner – the one who foretold the significance of Christ’s life and death. The scroll that unfurls around his leg was originally inscribed with the words he spoke about Christ as he baptised him: Ecce Agnus Dei (Latin for ‘Behold the Lamb of God’, John 1: 29).

The Virgin appears to be standing within the well. This might be a reference to the ‘closed well’ described in Song of Solomon (4:12), which became a symbol of Mary’s virginity.

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