The Holy Family with the Infant Saint John the Baptist
Oil on canvas
Purchased through the Mrs. Harvey P. Hood W'18 Fund; P.994.3
Denys Calvaert’s painting was acquired in 1994, soon after it appeared at Sotheby’s in New York. Six years earlier it had been sold through Galerie Gismondi in Paris. No other provenance information has been found before that time. The unmistakable signature in the center along the top edge of the canvas eliminates any scholarly doubt about the correct attribution of the painting. Denys Calvaert, born in Antwerp, arrived as a young man in Bologna, where he lived and worked for the rest of his life. The late-seventeenth-century biographer Carlo Cesare Malvasia notes that the artist first belonged to the studio of Prospero Fontana (1512-1597), then moved around 1568 to the studio of Lorenzo Sabatini (about 1530-1576), with whom he traveled to Rome from 1573 to 1575. The present picture appears to date from the time of Calvaert’s collaboration with Sabatini, which was relatively early in his long career. This is the opinion of art historian Angelo Mazza, who does not provide a precise date but does relate it to other contemporary Bolognese works. It reveals greater stylistic independence than the artist’s later paintings of the 1580s and onward, which share considerable affinities with the style of Federico Barocci (about 1535-1612).
The painting was likely executed after The Mystic Marriage of Saint Catherine in Leipzig and Vigilance in Bologna, both dated to around 1568 and linked to the style of Sabatini and another Bolognese artist, Orazio Samacchini (1532-1577). The Holy Family with the Infant Saint John the Baptist may be compared with the Immaculate Conception in the church of Sant’ Antonio Abate in Bologna, which Malvasia indicates was produced early in Calvaert’s collaboration with Sabatini. A preparatory drawing for the finished composition in the Chicago Art Institute supports the proposed date of about 1570-73. The sheet was executed in black chalk and brush and pale brown wash, heightened with lead white, and squared for transfer. Another version of The Holy Family with the Infant Saint John the Baptist with the same dimensions can be found in the Museo di Capodimonte in Naples. Later on in his career Calvaert reutilized his own designs to create a large number of small pictures on copper for commercial purposes. The use of canvas for the paintings at the Hood Museum of Art and Capodimonte (as well as a smaller version in Leipzig) is another indication of the early date of their execution.
Last Updated: 7/9/09