Art/ Collection/ Art Object

The Holy Family

Workshop of Joos van Cleve (Netherlandish, Cleve ca. 1485–1540/41 Antwerp)
ca. 1515
Oil on wood
20 3/8 x 14 5/8 in. (51.8 x 37.1 cm)
Credit Line:
Bequest of George Blumenthal, 1941
Accession Number:
Not on view
The popularity of Joos van Cleve's Holy Family compositions provided an impetus for the mass production of paintings on this theme; the present example is by an artist in Joos's workshop. He transferred the original design by pouncing, but was clearly less adept at handling and execution than the master.
Joos van Cleve is known for his innovative depictions of the Holy Family. In his various iterations of the subject, Joos gave Saint Joseph a more substantial role than in previous images. This reflected the changing attitude towards Joseph during Joos’s era. Whereas Joseph had previously been understood as a somewhat weak, passive individual, the fourteenth-century writer Jean Gerson, who was both chancellor of the University of Paris and the dean of Sint-Donaaskerk in Bruges, championed Joseph as a key figure in an "earthly Trinity." Joos’s interpretations of the Holy Family reflect this more substantive role.

Joos’s Holy Family images became very popular, and this led to the production of numerous workshop copies. His workshop assistants used design transfer techniques, such as pouncing, to streamline production, thereby maximizing the output that could be sold on the open market. In this Holy Family, painted by a member of Joos’s workshop, examination with infrared reflectography has revealed an underdrawing with extensive pouncing. The possible prototype of this image is Joos’s Holy Family in the National Gallery, London, of around 1520–25. Infrared reflectography has revealed that the London Christ was originally in a seated pose, providing the model for the Met Christ, and that his posture was changed during the painting process to a standing figure. There are some additional differences between the two: the position of the Virgin’s left hand, and the drawing of the lilies in the vase. Another workshop copy based on the London prototype, which includes the standing Christ, can be found in the Lehman collection (MMA 1975.1.117). The Art Institute of Chicago Holy Family is among numerous other paintings that refer to the same model (Wolff 2008).

This version is simplified from Joos’s earliest interpretation of the theme (MMA 32.100.57). The many symbolic objects are reduced in number and the text of Joseph’s book is not readable. Some symbolic elements remain—a glass holding lilies representing the Virgin’s purity, half a lemon with a knife referencing the bitterness of the Passion, and a group of three cherries, the traditional fruit of paradise. Christ suckles at his mother’s breast, but gazes directly at the viewer, engaging the devoted in a contemplation of the spiritual food offered by his ultimate sacrifice (Ainsworth 1998). Joseph here wears a straw hat, a traveler’s motif, which may reference the theme of the Flight into Egypt. This copy, although substantially based on Joos’s designs, is not as skilled as the work of the master. The Child appears to float above his mother’s lap, the facial expressions are somewhat vague, and the modeling of the forms lacks Joos’s characteristic subtlety.

[Maryan W. Ainsworth 2012]
George Blumenthal, New York (by 1916–d. 1941; cat., vol. 1, 1926, pl. 49)
Louisville. J. B. Speed Art Museum. "Old Masters from the Metropolitan," December 1, 1948–January 23, 1949, no catalogue.

Madison. Memorial Union Gallery, University of Wisconsin. "Old Masters from the Metropolitan," February 15–March 30, 1949, unnumbered cat.

Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center. "Old Masters from the Metropolitan," April 24–June 30, 1949, no catalogue.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "From Van Eyck to Bruegel: Early Netherlandish Painting in The Metropolitan Museum of Art," September 22, 1998–February 21, 1999, no. 62.

Stella Rubenstein. "Two Pictures by Joos van Cleve (Master of the Death of the Virgin)." Art in America 4, no. 4 (October, 1916), pp. 350–51, fig. 1, as by Joos van Cleve; discusses it with numerous replicas.

Martin Conway. The Van Eycks and Their Followers. London, 1921, p. 407, as one of two types of Virgin and Child compositions by Joos that are widely copied and disseminated.

Ludwig von Baldass. Joos van Cleve, der Meister des Todes Mariä. Vienna, 1925, p. 35, no. 107, lists it among works ascribed to Joos by other writers, but not known to the author.

Stella Rubinstein-Bloch. Catalogue of the Collection of George and Florence Blumenthal. Vol. 1, Paintings—Early Schools. Paris, 1926, unpaginated, pl. 49.

Max J. Friedländer. Die altniederländische Malerei. Vol. 9, Joos van Cleve, Jan Provost, Joachim Patenier. Berlin, 1931, pp. 39–40, 138, no. 66m, calls it possibly an original by Joos van Cleve; lists it among replicas of the example in the National Gallery, London.

Martin Davies. National Gallery Catalogues: Early Netherlandish School. London, 1945, p. 67, mentions it among versions of the painting in London and notes that it is reminiscent of that work's original design, known through pentimenti; observes that the type of Virgin's head reappears frequently in paintings of the Virgin in prayer and suggests that her extended left hand derives from Leonardo; believes that Joseph's straw hat may be taken from "some Flight into Egypt, where it is more proper" and calls the cut lemon an indication of the true subject, the weaning of Christ.

Harry B. Wehle and Margaretta Salinger. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: A Catalogue of Early Flemish, Dutch and German Paintings. New York, 1947, p. 135, as a replica of Joos's Holy Family in the National Gallery, London; suggest that it is somewhat later in date than our other Joos Holy Family (32.100.57).

Erwin Panofsky. Early Netherlandish Painting: Its Origins and Character. Cambridge, Mass., 1953, vol. 1, p. 354; vol. 2, pl. 333, fig. 495, discusses it as an example of the Master of the Death of the Virgin's (Joos van Cleve's) adaptation of old inventions of the Netherlandish tradition to new uses, merging them with Italian elements; notes that the artist retains here elements from the Flémalle Master's Frankfurt Madonna (Städelsches Kunstinstitut): the picturesque kerchief, the nursing motif and the gesture of the Infant Christ who embraces the Virgin's breast with both hands; notes that the Virgin's left hand is foreshortened in a Leonardesque manner.

Max J. Friedländer et al. Early Netherlandish Painting. Vol. 9, part 1, Joos van Cleve, Jan Provost, Joachim Patenier. New York, 1972, p. 65, no. 66m, pl. 85.

Elga Lanc. "Die religiösen Bilder des Joos van Cleve." PhD diss., Universität Wien, 1972, p. 47 n. 2, fig. 48.

John Oliver Hand. "Joos van Cleve: The Early and Mature Works." PhD diss., Princeton University, 1978, pp. 159–60, 203–5, 273–75 nn. 36, 40, compares our painting with the version in London; suggests that Joos created an image out of quotations from Jan van Eyck and Rogier van der Weyden "not only because of a spirit of archaism but also because of the dearth of representations of this theme"; comments on the symbolic significance of the still life motifs.

Norbert Schneider. "Wirtschafts- und sozialgeschichtliche Aspekte des Früchtestillebens." Stilleben in Europa. Ed. Gerhard Langemeyer and Hans-Albert Peters. Exh. cat., Westfälisches Landesmuseum für Kunst und Kulturgeschichte. 1979, p. 267, ill.

Maryan W. Ainsworth. "Underdrawings in Paintings by Joos van Cleve at the Metropolitan Museum of Art." Le dessin sous-jacent dans la peinture. Ed. Roger van Schoute and Dominique Hollanders-Favart. Colloque 4, Louvain-la-Neuve, 1982, pp. 161, 164–67 nn. 12–14, pls. 84–85 (the painting and reflectogram), notes that the design of this picture was pounced in its entiety, adding evidence for the belief that it is a workshop piece; compares it with Joos's Holy Family in London and suggests that both paintings rely on another, now lost, composition.

Mark L. Evans. "An Early Altar–piece by Joos van Cleve." Burlington Magazine 124 (October, 1982), p. 623 n. 8.

Maryan W. Ainsworth. "A Meeting of Sacred and Secular Worlds." From Van Eyck to Bruegel: Early Netherlandish Painting in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Ed. Maryan W. Ainsworth and Keith Christiansen. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1998, pp. 37, 250–52, 325, no. 62, ill. (color), ascribes it to the workshop of Joos van Cleve and dates it about 1515.

Old Master Paintings. Sotheby's, New York. November 2, 2000, p. 16, compares our picture to a Holy Family by a "Follower of Joos van Cleve" (lot no. 11).

John Oliver Hand. Joos van Cleve: The Complete Paintings. New Haven, 2004, p. 134, no. 33.10, as "workshop of Joos".

Martha Wolff in Northern European and Spanish Paintings before 1600 in the Art Institute of Chicago. Ed. Martha Wolff. New Haven, 2008, pp. 169–70 nn. 7–8, fig. 1.

Micha Leeflang in Joos van Cleve, Leonardo des Nordens. Ed. Peter van den Brink et al. Exh. cat., Suermondt-Ludwig-Museum, Aachen. Stuttgart, 2011, pp. 148, 153, fig. 127 (color).

Norbert Schneider. Von Bosch zu Bruegel: Niederländische Malerei im Zeitalter von Humanismus und Reformation. Berlin, 2015, p. 251.

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