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Titian, The Holy Family with a Shepherd

Key facts
Full title The Holy Family with a Shepherd
Artist Titian
Artist dates active about 1506; died 1576
Date made about 1510
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 99.1 × 139.1 cm
Acquisition credit Holwell Carr Bequest, 1831
Inventory number NG4
Location Room 9
Collection Main Collection
Previous owners
The Holy Family with a Shepherd

This is one of Titian’s earliest surviving works. It shows the Adoration of the Shepherds – the flying angel in the distance announces Christ’s birth to them. Saint Joseph presents the infant Christ to a young shepherd, who kneels in reverence.

It is unusual to find only one shepherd in attendance. The reason for this may be that Titian wished to emphasise the importance of Saint Joseph by making him central to the composition both in terms of action and position. The painting was probably made for a patron who was especially devoted to Saint Joseph, whose cult was strongly promoted in north Italy at this date. It was probably painted for a domestic setting.

Titian’s lack of training in drawing the figure is clear from the size of Saint Joseph’s head in relation to his torso. None of the figures are convincingly articulated, again suggesting that this is a very early work.

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