The Holy Family and Baxandall

7:00 AM

Joos Van Cleve, The Holy Family, c. 1525-1530

When I first came upon this painting, scrolling through Tumblr, I laughed out loud. Not a simple lol-like titter, but a genuine and hearty chortle. Ever since my first encounter with it a few months ago, I've been waiting for the most perfect time to debut this masterpiece. 


Reading Michael Baxandall's Painting & Experience in Fifteenth Century Italy, the phrase "One must enter into the spirit of the game" stood out to me above all others. I know this because I have underlined, highlighted, put brackets around it, and rewritten it at the top of the page.  "The game" I can only assume to be this idea of "the period-eye."

The Period-eye simply implores the viewer to attempt to regard a painting with the same experience, knowledge and conventions as those viewing and purchasing the work during the time of creation. It's an interesting request, especially in conjunction with Joos Van Cleve's painting The Holy Family (an artist whose name is just as funny as the painting). Truthfully, this painting could work well with many of Baxandall's ideas: the humorous facial expressions, the questionable attitude and position of baby Jesus,  or even the choice of colors. Heck, I could probably bring some math into this and measure the circumference of one of Mary's breasts or calculate the arc of Joseph's smirk. All these options would make for quite a hilarious and no doubt entertaining blog post, but going back to the period-eye. I figured perhaps it would be better to transcend the hilarity altogether, and enter into the spirit of the Game.  

Nudity is not inherently sexual. The positions of Mary and Jesus in The Holy Family act as the primary symbols for God's love for humanity. The position of Mary supporting the Jesus in a  more upright position is referred to in Latin as Maria Lactans, "The virgin's nursing breast." Once one is able to transcend the preverted hilarity of this work, and the works alike - one enters a whole new world of understanding and appreciation for art and even religion. 

I feel sometimes, in class this semester, we were often too quick to point out the funny face or booty on fire. While entertaining, I hope that next semester we can transcend the initial hilarity and better enter into the spirit of The Game. 

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