The Holy Family

Artist: Jan Gossart (called Mabuse) (Netherlandish, Maubeuge ca. 1478–1532 Antwerp (?))

Date: ca. 1510–20

Medium: Pen and two shades of brown ink over remains of black chalk

Dimensions: 6 1/8 x 5 in. (15.5 x 12.7 cm)

Classification: Drawings

Credit Line: Purchase, Eugene V. Thaw Gift, 2001

Accession Number: 2001.190


In this drawing, Gossart depicted the Holy Family sitting on a bench next to a tree, of which we can see only the trunk. The Virgin Mary dangles the naked Christ Child on her lap as he turns his head to look at us. Next to them is Joseph, who offers Mary a flower. Gossart paid a great deal of attention to the drapery folds. Their detailed execution and almost sculptural quality are in contrast to the sketchier, less-worked-out figures. In the background, faint lines seem to indicate first thoughts for a possible architectural setting. The exquisite drawing might have been a preliminary study for an unidentified painting or print. Another possibility is that the drawing was meant to be an independent work, but for an unknown reason the artist left it unfinished. Among the most technically virtuous artists of the early sixteenth century and one of the earliest exponents of Antwerp Mannerism, Gossart worked for a number of influential courts and patrons, including Philip of Burgundy, Adolf of Burgundy, and Christian II, king of Denmark.