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Luca Signorelli, 'The Holy Family', probably about 1490-5

Key facts
Full title The Holy Family
Artist Luca Signorelli
Artist dates about 1440/50 - 1523
Date made probably about 1490-5
Medium and support Oil on wood
Dimensions 80.6 × 64.8 cm
Acquisition credit Salting Bequest, 1910
Inventory number NG2488
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
Previous owners
The Holy Family
Luca Signorelli

The Virgin Mary holds her clothing out the way as Christ leans towards her to breastfeed, and Saint Joseph dotes upon him. By using a plain dark background and a tightly cropped close-up view, Signorelli invites us to share in this intimate moment.

Signorelli was well known for his ability to paint the human body convincingly; here, Christ has a study torso and chubby folds of baby fat around his armpits and inner thighs. He holds a strawberry plant in his hand, a symbol of his fruitful and righteous life.

The picture was heavily restored before entering the National Gallery’s collection, and discoloured paint from the restoration remains near the Virgin’s ear, and in Christ’s left shoulder and Joseph’s face, as well as in the draperies.

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