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Jacob Jordaens, 'The Holy Family and Saint John the Baptist', probably 1620-5

Key facts
Full title The Holy Family and Saint John the Baptist
Artist Jacob Jordaens
Artist dates 1593 - 1678
Date made probably 1620-5
Medium and support Oil on oak
Dimensions 123 × 93.9 cm
Acquisition credit Presented by the 5th Duke of Northumberland, 1838
Inventory number NG164
Location Room 20
Collection Main Collection
Previous owners
The Holy Family and Saint John the Baptist
Jacob Jordaens

The infant Christ is the central figure in this painting, but he is the only one who doesn't look at us directly. Gripping his rosary (the Catholic prayer beads used to keep count of devotions), he gazes beyond the frame in contemplation, while Joseph, the Virgin Mary and the young John the Baptist stare forward.

Jordaens likely painted this picture with Caravaggio’s Madonna of the Rosary in mind (the picture had travelled from Naples to one of Antwerp’s many Catholic churches in the early seventeenth century). The rosary beads resurface here and, combined with Christ’s outward gaze, they might hint at something beyond his childhood. The reed cross held by John stands in for the crucifix of the Passion (Christ’s torture and crucifixion), which was contemplated by means of the rosary prayer. Joseph, Mary and John address us, but Christ addresses his future.

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