Curator’s Choice

Holy Family with the Holy Spirit


Carlos Martinez (Mexican, 19th century)
Oil on Copper
H 12 1/2 in. x W 15 3/4 in.
Museum Purchase

The scene of The Holy Family is a representation of Jesus, Mary and Joseph in a typical domestic setting.

Carlos Martinez (Mexican, 19th century) has placed the figures in a traditional pyramidal composition. The Holy Spirit hovers closely, as a bright light emanates from the heavens. Golden halos appear over the heads of all the figures, but the Infant's is more intense and shines brighter.

Mary holds Jesus on her lap and gazes intimately at Him. The Infant lends one hand to St. Joseph, while He rests the other on a transparent celestial orb. Here, this gesture may explain Christ's earthly and spiritual reign as Savior of the World. He extends one leg toward St. Joseph who tenderly grasps the foot -- all the while gazing downward, perhaps somehow sensing the Infant's destiny.

The technique of painting on copper dates from the 16th century, when European artists determined that thin sheets of copper lent themselves to fine workmanship and gave a luminous shine to the paint. Later, the art form was carried to the New World colonies and Mexico's numerous copper mines offered an abundant source for artists who sought to master the technique and develop a style all their own.