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Work The Holy Family with Saint Anne (?) and a Maidservant

Department of Prints and Drawings: 17th century

La Sainte Famille, avec sainte Anne (?) et une servante

RMN-Grand Palais - Photo T. Le Mage

Prints and Drawings
17th century

Grollemund Hélène

This straightforward Holy Family is typical of Jordaens' early style in its composition using distinct masses and its introspectiveness. Here Jordaens offers his own version of the tenebrist movement that characterized 17th-century European painting.

Difficulties of identification

At the center of the composition is the seated Virgin, suckling the Child on her knees. On the right, she is watched by St. Joseph and an old woman sitting on a chair; on the left, a maidservant lights the scene with a candle. Lacking attributes, the old woman is difficult to identify. In theory, she might be St. Anne or St. Elizabeth, both of whom regularly appear with the Holy Family. In two drawings of the Holy Family with Saint Elizabeth, Jordaens shows the latter with a lamb, the traditional attribute of her son, St. John the Baptist (Holy Family with Saint Elizabeth, London, British Museum), or flanked by an angel (Holy Family with Saint Elizabeth and an Angel, Lille, Musée des Beaux-Arts). Neither of these attributes having been included here, the figure might represent Mary's mother, St. Anne. What is more, St. Anne appears without any special attribute in a drawing of the Holy Family with Saint Anne and a Maidservant, which has been part of a New York private collection since 1974.

A drawing executed in two phases

This monumental drawing seems to have been executed in two phases. The design of the main part - the group made up of the Virgin, St. Joseph, and the maidservant with the candle - dates to the 1620s, a time when Jordaens was especially attracted by Caravaggio's realism and use of light. At some point in his later career, he enlarged the composition by adding the figure of the old woman. It was probably then that he heightened the drawing with watercolor and white gouache.

Intimate lighting

Like three other drawings of the Holy Family done in the same period, this has no direct connection with any painting. In the New York private collection drawing and the Virgin and Child with Maidservant in Vienna's Albertina, the light of the candle held by the servant plays an important role: the play of light and shadow it produces both reinforces the volumes and creates a sense of intimacy. Like this work, the Albertina drawing was later enlarged, as was the Holy Family with Saint Anne and a Maidservant at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, which dates from the same period, 1620-23.


R.A. d'Hulst, De tekeningen van Jacob Jordaens, Bruxelles, 1956, cat. n 31 et p. 126.
M. Jaffé, Jacob Jordaens, exp. Ottawa, National Gallery of Canada, 1968.
A. Calvet (Sérullaz), in Dessins du Louvre, écoles allemande, flamande, hollandaise, Paris, 1968, n 62.
R.A. d'Hulst, Jordaens Drawings, Bruxelles, 1974, n A57, pp. 150-151.
A. Sérullaz, in Rubens, ses maîtres, ses élèves : dessins du musée du Louvre, cat. exp. Paris, musée du Louvre, 1978, n 150.
R.A. d'Hulst, Jacob Jordaens (1593-1678), Anvers, Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, 1993, n B9.

Technical description

  • Jacob Jordaens (Antwerp, 1593-Antwerp, 1678)

    The Holy Family with Saint Anne (?) and a Maidservant

  • Brown wash, watercolor, and white heightening over black and red chalk

    H. 44.1 cm; W. 41.2 cm

  • RF 12209

  • Prints and Drawings

    Due to their fragility, works on paper are not on permanent display in the museum.

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