An artist of remarkable facility and invention, Sebastiano Ricci achieved a reputation throughout Europe. This Holy Family reflects Ricci's admiration for the work of Ludovico Carracci. He would have had ample opportunity to study Ludovico's paintings when he moved from Venice to Bologna about 1678. The intimate treatment of the theme and the bespectacled figure of Saint Joseph reading a book are noteworthy.
The Child is asleep in the Virgin’s lap, as she tenderly holds him and two angels pay homage to him. Behind the group Saint Joseph, bespectacled, is absorbed in his reading. The subject is probably devoid of narrative and intended as a private devotional image, even though it has been suggested (Scarpa 2006) that it may represent a Rest on the Flight into Egypt.
The painting is said to come from an unknown English private collection, but its earlier provenance and original patron are unknown. It has been variously dated, on stylistic grounds, from Ricci’s English period (Corsini  dates it to 1705–15) to later in the artist’s career (Pignatti  dates it to about 1724). It is, however, more likely that the painting is from earlier in Ricci’s life, from around 1695–1700 (Christiansen 1987).
Sebastiano Ricci was in Bologna from 1678 and later at the court of Duke Ranuccio II Farnese in Parma and Piacenza. The Holy Family is heavily influenced by the art of the Carracci family, which Ricci closely studied in Bologna. The group of the Virgin and Child is particularly similar to the central group—in reverse—in Annibale Carracci’s altarpiece of the Virgin and Child with Saints, painted in 1588 for the Cappella dei Mercanti in the church of San Prospero in Reggio Emilia, and in Ricci’s time in the ducal collections in Modena (now Gemäldegalerie, Dresden).
[Xavier F. Salomon 2011]
private collection, England; [Piero Corsini, New York, by 1984–86]
New York. Piero Corsini, Inc. "Italian Old Master Paintings: Fourteenth to Eighteenth Century," November 17–December 8, 1984, no. 25.
Piero Corsini. Italian Old Master Paintings: Fourteenth to Eighteenth Century. Exh. cat., Piero Corsini, Inc. New York, 1984, pp. 54–55, no. 25, ill. (color), dates it between 1705 and 1715.
Keith Christiansen inRecent Acquisitions: A Selection, 1986–1987. New York, 1987, p. 36, ill., notes the influence of Ludovico and Annibale Carracci and suggests a possible date of 1695–1700.
Terisio Pignatti. Venezia: mille anni d'arte. Venice, 1989, pp. 287–88, ill. (color), erroneously as still at Piero Corsini; dates it about 1724, during Ricci's mature rococo phase.
Annalisa Scarpa. Sebastiano Ricci. Milan, 2006, p. 259, no. 331, fig. 102, calls it Rest on the Flight into Egypt, lists it as on the art market about 1960–70, and states that Pallucchini attributed it to Ricci in writing in 1960.