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The Virgin adoring the Child with Saint Joseph
Fra Bartolommeo
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In this painting intended for private devotion, Fra Bartolommeo emphasises the humble circumstances of Christ’s birth. The Virgin kneels on the ground before the newborn Christ, while barefoot Saint Joseph watches over the baby. The makeshift stable made from the ruins of a classical building stands behind them, outside the city walls of Bethlehem. In the background, an artist and his assistants paint a fresco above the city gate while young Saint John the Baptist walks away from Bethlehem, having escaped Herod’s Massacre of the Innocents.

The composition is related to Fra Bartolommeo’s Holy Family (Borghese Gallery, Rome) of about 1495. The unusual pose of the Virgin is derived from Leonardo’s work, and a variation of Fra Bartolommeo’s Holy Family (Museo Poldi Pezzoli, Milan), of about 1504. However, the rich palette and landscape full of incidental detail reveal the influence of Venetian art.

Key facts
Artist Fra Bartolommeo
Artist dates 1472? - 1517
Full title The Virgin adoring the Child with Saint Joseph
Date made before 1511
Medium and support Oil on wood
Dimensions 137.8 x 104.8 cm
Acquisition credit Mond Bequest, 1924
Inventory number NG3914
Location in Gallery Room 8
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