Key Ideas about this Work of Art
- Jacob Jordaens often painted portraits of peasants. This painting depicts important characters from the Bible as ordinary Flemish people.
- The subject of this painting is a biblical story in which John the Baptist’s parents visited Jesus’s parents when they were babies.
- John the Baptist is identified by the lamb standing beside him in this painting. He is symbolized by a lamb because he proclaimed, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29)
- Scholars suggest that the bird flying out of the cage symbolizes the human soul set free by God.
- When the NCMA Conservation Department examined this painting, they discovered a hidden figure that had been painted over. Joseph was depicted in the original version.
Artist Jacob Jordaens spent his life in Antwerp, the city in Belgium where he lived and painted portraits of peasants and other local people. In this painting Jordaens portrays members of the Holy Family as modestly dressed individuals in a humble setting. The people depicted in this painting are the Virgin Mary, Jesus and his cousin John (both as babies), and John’s parents (Elizabeth and Zacharias).
The artist included several visual clues and symbols in this scene. Mary’s coiled braid suggests a halo, and her high-backed wicker chair resembles a throne. The infant Jesus is wrapped in swaddling clothes, and he wears a crown of flowers that looks like a halo. The infant John the Baptist is wearing a camel-skin garment, and he is accompanied by a lamb. The lamb is a symbol of John the Baptist’s identification of Jesus as the “Lamb of God.” The bird (a goldfinch) flying out of its cage may symbolize the human soul set free by God.
The NCMA Conservation Department used X-ray imaging to examine this painting. The X-rays revealed that Joseph was included in the original version.
Tags: Flemish painting, Baroque, 17th century
Resources for Teachers:
- Read the artist’s biography.
- Watch a video about the baroque art movement.
- Read an article about the figures from the Bible who are depicted in this painting.
Resources for Students: