The Holy Family on the Steps

The Holy Family on the Steps


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Nicolas Poussin

(French, 1594-1665)

Oil on canvas

Framed: 103.5 x 135.3 x 13.3 cm (40 3/4 x 53 1/4 x 5 1/4 in.); Unframed: 73.3 x 105.8 cm (28 7/8 x 41 5/8 in.); Former: 72.3 x 104 cm (28 7/16 x 40 15/16 in.)

Leonard C. Hanna, Jr. Fund 1981.18

Did you know?

Poussin placed small wax models in a box pierced with holes to study lighting effects.


This deceptively simple composition represents a complex meditation on the Holy Family’s role in the redemption of humanity. At the center, Mary presents the Christ Child to the world. At the left, Saint Elizabeth leans forward to foretell his eventual death, while her son, Saint John the Baptist, offers Jesus an apple, signifying humanity’s fall from grace in the Garden of Eden. At the right, Saint Joseph holds a compass, a sign of his occupation as a carpenter and also symbolic of God the Father. Poussin developed his composition meticulously and deliberately, using clear primary colors, simple forms, and a geometric organization to express the central importance of the Holy Family in Christian belief.


What does this Painting Tell Us?
Poussin's Artistic Process
Joseph, Father Figure of the 17th Century
Classical Architecture in Rome
See also

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