The Holy Family appears to Saint Francis in this warm-hearted vision. The painting displays Rubens’s characteristic delight in the folds and dimples of flesh, the golden hues of sunset, and tender interactions between mothers and children. The dynamic forward movement of the saint from the left animates the scene, drawing the viewer’s eye diagonally across the canvas. American tastes were slow to embrace Rubens’s overt and bodily piety; this was one of the first of his works to enter a public collection in the United States.
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Title:The Holy Family with Saints Francis and Anne and the Infant Saint John the Baptist
Artist:Peter Paul Rubens (Flemish, Siegen 1577–1640 Antwerp)
Date:early or mid-1630s
Medium:Oil on canvas
Dimensions:69 1/2 x 82 1/2 in. (176.5 x 209.6 cm)
Credit Line:Gift of James Henry Smith, 1902
?the artist, Peter Paul Rubens, Antwerp (until d. 1640; his estate); ?Andries de Schutter (by 1645); ?Justus Sustermans, Florence; ?Cardinal Giovanni Carlo de' Medici, Florence (by 1646–d. 1663); Philip John Miles, Leigh Court, Somerset, near Bristol (by 1822–d. 1845; cat., 1822, no. 3, ill.); his son, Sir William Miles, 1st Baronet, Leigh Court (1845–d. 1878); his son, Sir Philip John William Miles, 2nd Baronet, Leigh Court (1878–d. 1888; his sale, Christie's, London, under the direction of the High Court of Justice, June 28, 1884, no. 61, for £5,250, bought in); his son, Sir Cecil Miles, 3rd Baronet, Leigh Court (1888–d. 1898; posthumous sale, Christie's, London, May 13, 1899, no. 26, for £8,715, to Agnew); [Agnew, London, from 1899]; [Sedelmeyer, Paris, in 1900; cat., 1900, no. 32, ill.]; F. O. Matthiessen, New York (until 1902; his estate sale, American Art Association, Mendelssohn Hall, New York, April 1–2, 1902, no. 141, for $50,000, to Blow); George P. Blow (1902); James Henry Smith, New York (1902)
London. Royal Academy of Arts. "Winter Exhibition," 1870, no. 80 (lent by Sir William Miles, Bart.).
New York. Wildenstein & Co., Inc. "A Loan Exhibition of Rubens," February 20–March 31, 1951, no. 21.
Antwerp. Royal Museum of Fine Arts. "P. P. Rubens: Paintings—Oilsketches—Drawings," June 29–September 30, 1977, no. 99.
Brisbane. Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art. "European Masterpieces from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York," June 12–October 17, 2021, unnumbered cat.
Osaka. Osaka City Museum of Fine Arts. "European Masterpieces from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York," November 13, 2021–January 16, 2022.
Tokyo. National Art Center. "European Masterpieces from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York," February 9–May 30, 2022.
John Young. A Catalogue of the Pictures at Leigh Court, near Bristol . . . London, 1822, no. 3, ill. (Young's etching).
James Dallaway in Horace Walpole. Anecdotes of Painting in England. London, 1828, vol. 2, p. 180, as in the J. P. [sic] Miles collection.
John Smith. A Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of the Most Eminent Dutch, Flemish, and French Painters. Vol. 2, London, 1830, p. 221, under no. 784, as a duplicate of the Windsor picture; tentatively identifies it with the picture sold at Christie's in 1820 [but see Notes].
G[ustav]. F[riedrich]. Waagen. Works of Art and Artists in England. London, 1838, vol. 3, p. 141, as by Rubens.
G[ustav]. F[riedrich]. Waagen. Kunstwerke und Künstler in England und Paris. Vol. 2, Kunstwerke und Künstler in England. Berlin, 1838, p. 351.
André van Hasselt. Histoire de P.-P. Rubens. Brussels, 1840, pp. 250–51, under no. 236, as a repetition of the Windsor picture.
[Gustav Friedrich] Waagen. Treasures of Art in Great Britain. London, 1854, vol. 3, p. 182 [text similar to Ref. Waagen 1838], as by Rubens.
Alfred Michiels. Catalogue des tableaux et dessins de Rubens. Paris, 1854, p. 11, no. 201, as a copy of the Windsor picture.
Claude Phillips. "Correspondance d'Angleterre." Gazette des beaux-arts, 2nd ser., 30 (1884), p. 287, as autograph throughout.
Max Rooses. L'Oeuvre de P. P. Rubens. Vol. 1, Antwerp, 1886, p. 309, no. 235, as an autograph repetition of the Windsor picture.
Illustrated Catalogue of the Sixth Series of 100 Paintings by Old Masters of the Dutch, Flemish, Italian, French, and English Schools. Paris, 1900, p. 42, no. 32, ill. opp. p. 42.
Max Rooses. Rubens. London, 1904, vol. 1, p. 228 [French ed., "Rubens, sa vie et ses oeuvres," (1900–1903)], as entirely by Rubens, from about 1618.
Adolf Rosenberg. P. P. Rubens, des Meisters Gemälde. 1st ed. Stuttgart, 1905, p. 484, ill. p. 380 [4th ed. by Rudolf Oldenbourg, 1921, p. 466], as an autograph work of about 1635–36; calls the Windsor picture a copy by a pupil.
Edward Dillon. Rubens. London, , p. 168, believes Rooses's [see Ref. 1904] date of 1618 to be "far too early," but suggests it is not so late as Rosenberg's [see Ref. 1905] proposed date of 1635–36.
Max Rooses. "Œuvre de Rubens: Addenda et corrigenda." Bulletin-Rubens 5 (1910), p. 184, calls it the original work of which the Windsor version is a repetition.
Wilhelm R. Valentiner. The Art of the Low Countries. English ed. Garden City, N.Y., 1914, pp. 194, 237, dates it about 1635–40, and regards it as partially by pupils.
Rudolf Oldenbourg. P. P. Rubens, des Meisters Gemälde. 4th ed. [1st ed. 1905]. Stuttgart, 1921, p. 466 [1st ed. by Adolf Rosenberg, 1905, p. 484, ill. p. 380], considers it further removed from Rubens than the version in Windsor, which he describes as by a pupil.
Algernon Graves. Art Sales from Early in the Eighteenth Century to Early in the Twentieth Century. Vol. 3, Reynolds to Z. London, 1921, pp. 120–21.
Rudolf Oldenbourg. Peter Paul Rubens. Ed. Wilhelm von Bode. Munich, 1922, pp. 163–64, fig. 96, as a follower's adaptation of Rubens's design, which is recorded by the Windsor picture.
Ludwig Burchard, ed. Rubens, Van Dyck und ihr Kreis.. By Gustav Glück. Vienna, 1933, p. 395, states that no scholars have supported Oldenbourg's attribution [see Ref. 1921] to Boeckhorst.
Gustav Glück. Rubens, Van Dyck und ihr Kreis. Ed. Ludwig Burchard. Vienna, 1933, p. 166, disagrees with Rosenberg [see Ref. 1905], calling it a copy by a pupil.
C. H. Collins Baker. Catalogue of the Principal Pictures in the Royal Collection at Windsor Castle. London, 1937, p. 276, as a repetition of the Windsor picture.
Alan Burroughs. Art Criticism from a Laboratory. Boston, 1938, pp. 129–31, figs. 46 (detail), 47, 48 (shadowgraph details), states that the underpainting revealed by radiography does not suggest Rubens's authorship, and suggests Theodore van Thulden as the painter.
W. R. Valentiner. "Rubens' Paintings in America." Art Quarterly 9 (Spring 1946), p. 164, no. 99, as executed with the assistance of pupils; dates it about 1625–26.
Wilhelm R. Valentiner. Loan Exhibition of Forty-three Paintings by Rubens and Twenty-five Paintings by Van Dyck. Exh. cat., Los Angeles County Museum. Los Angeles, 1946, unpaginated, under no. 29, states that the MMA, Windsor, and San Diego versions were all executed with the assistance of pupils.
Jan-Albert Goris and Julius S. Held. Rubens in America. New York, 1947, pp. 33, 50, no. 48, pl. 47, suggest that Rubens "took a considerable part" in its execution, and date it to the 1630s.
Julia Gethman Andrews. A Catalogue of European Paintings, 1300–1870. San Diego, 1947, p. 113.
Ludwig Burchard. A Loan Exhibition of Rubens. Exh. cat., Wildenstein & Co., Inc. New York, 1951, p. 21, no. 21, ill. p. 43, as an autograph work of about 1628; calls it the earliest version.
Paul Bird. "Rubens Presented in First New York Show." Art Digest 25 (March 1, 1951), p. 7, ill.
Erik Larsen. P. P. Rubens. Antwerp, 1952, p. 218, no. 76, as "the only one of several existing variants where Rubens's hand is really preponderant"; dates it about 1628–30.
Winter Exhibition: Flemish Art 1300–1700. Exh. cat., Royal Academy of Arts. London, 1953, p. 58, under no. 170.
Josephine L. Allen and Elizabeth E. Gardner. A Concise Catalogue of the European Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1954, p. 87.
John Jacob. "The Liverpool Rubens and Other Related Pictures." Liverpool Bulletin 9 (1960–61), p. 14.
Oil Sketches and Smaller Pictures by Sir Peter Paul Rubens. Exh. cat., Thomas Agnew & Sons, Ltd. London, 1961, p. 26, under no. 30.
Sylvia Hochfield. "Conservation: The Need is Urgent." Art News 75 (February 1976), p. 27.
P. P. Rubens: Paintings—Oilsketches—Drawings. Exh. cat., Royal Museum of Fine Arts. Antwerp, 1977, p. 231, no. 99, ill., notes that the style "points to a date in the 1630s and indicates that Rubens had at least a considerable hand in it".
Didier Bodart. Rubens e l'incisione nelle collezioni del Gabinetto Nazionale delle Stampe. Exh. cat., Villa della Farnesina. Rome, 1977, p. 45, under no. 63.
Michael Jaffé. "Exhibitions for the Rubens Year—I." Burlington Magazine 119 (September 1977), p. 624.
Oliver Millar. Letter to Martha Wolff. July 10, 1979, as of "fine autograph quality throughout, with the exception perhaps of the figure of Saint Joseph".
Julius S. Held. The Oil Sketches of Peter Paul Rubens. Princeton, 1980, vol. 1, p. 506, under no. 370, states that it probably dates from the mid-1630s.
Walter A. Liedtke. "Flemish Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum—I: Rubens." Tableau 6 (November/December 1983), pp. 83–86, 88 n. 23, fig. 4 (color).
Walter A. Liedtke. Flemish Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1984, vol. 1, pp. 140–46; vol. 2, colorpl. X, pls. 58–59 (overall and detail), dates it probably during the early to mid-1630s, observing that Rubens may have employed workshop assistants to some extent, but that most of the painting is clearly by him.
Michael Jaffé. Rubens: catalogo completo. Milan, 1989, pp. 300, 327, no. 1047, ill., dates it 1630–35.
Christopher Lloyd. The Queen's Pictures: Royal Collectors through the Centuries. Exh. cat., National Gallery. London, 1991, p. 126, fig. 41, under no. 39.
Introduction by Walter A. Liedtke inFlemish Paintings in America: A Survey of Early Netherlandish and Flemish Paintings in the Public Collections of North America. Antwerp, 1992, pp. 13, 362, no. 414, ill.
Christiane Stukenbrock inVon Bruegel bis Rubens: Das goldene Jahrhundert der flämischen Malerei. Exh. cat., Wallraf-Richartz-Museum. Cologne, 1992, p. 354, under no. 44.10.
Peter C. Sutton. The Age of Rubens. Exh. cat., Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Boston, 1993, pp. 291, 293 n. 7, as probably executed with some workshop assistance.
Agnew's 1993 Catalogue. Exh. cat., Agnew's. London, 1993, unpaginated, under no. 2, suggests that the Agnew picture is subsequent to the first painting of the Museum's composition, but precedes its completion.
Walter Liedtke. "'Everything is not the same': Style and Expression in Some Religious Paintings by Rubens." Rubens and his Workshop: "The Flight of Lot and his Family from Sodom". Ed. Toshiharu Nakamura. Exh. cat., National Museum of Western Art. Tokyo, 1994, pp. 135–39, figs. 6, 8 (x-radiograph).
David Freedberg. Peter Paul Rubens: Oil Paintings and Oil Sketches. Exh. cat., Gagosian Gallery. New York, 1995, pp. 38–40.
Katharine Baetjer. European Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art by Artists Born Before 1865: A Summary Catalogue. New York, 1995, p. 279, ill., as "The Holy Family with Saints Francis and Anne and the Infant Saint John the Baptist".
Christopher White. The Later Flemish Pictures in the Collection of Her Majesty the Queen. London, 2007, pp. 194–95, fig. 42, under no. 59.
Görel Cavalli-Björkman inRubens & Van Dyck. Exh. cat., Nationalmuseum. Stockholm, , p. 250, under no. 67.
Fiona Healy inRubens: The Power of Transformation. Exh. cat., Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna. Hirmer, 2017, pp. 90, 92–93, fig. 5 (color).
Katharine Baetjer inEuropean Masterpieces from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Exh. cat., Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art. South Brisbane, 2021, pp. 104, 232, ill. pp. 105–7 (color, overall and detail).
Two compositions close to this one are known: a canvas in the Fine Arts Gallery of San Diego, and one at Windsor Castle. Their relationship to The Met's picture has been a matter of dispute. The Windsor painting must date from before Rubens's travels of 1628–30, and the San Diego picture is most likely a good studio variant from the 1630s, combining features of both The Met's and Windsor versions. The The Met's picture may have been begun in the 1630s as a full-length version of an original state of the picture at Windsor. Having largely, or completely, finished the Museum's painting, Rubens may then have decided to change the figures of Mary and Joseph, and to add the infant Saint John.
An oil sketch in the Galway collection, which has been attributed to Rubens by Jaffé and Held (1980) represents a stage in between the original composition of the painting at Windsor and the first state of the present work. A canvas by Rubens at Agnew's in 1993 is based upon this sketch.
Numerous versions of this composition exist, some including the figure of Saint Francis. Paintings that depend on the final state of our picture include a Madonna and Child (Muzeum Narodowe, Warsaw); a Holy Family with Saint Anne and the Infant Saint John (Arnold Seligmann, Rey & Co. sale, Parke Bernet, New York, January 23–24, 1947, no. 269, withdrawn); a Virgin and Child with the Infant Saint John (H. K. L. Hildebrandt sale, Lepke's, Berlin, May 7, 1912, no. 46); a copy of the entire composition (Ferdinand Panciatichi Ximenes d'Aragona collection sale, Galardelli e Mazzoni, Florence, April 3–16, 1902, no. 129, as by Van Dyck); and the painting in San Diego mentioned above.
Smith (1830) tentatively connects The Met's version with one sold at Christie's in 1820. Graves (1921) lists a Rubens of this title as lot 117 of Christie's sale on May 27, 1820, for £204.18 to Lord Carrington. Christie's, however, has no record of the picture being sold on this date. Lord Carrington's version has been thought to be the one today in San Diego.
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