The Holy Family
This painting dates from Bourdon’s most classical period in the 1650s. He was inspired by Nicolas Poussin’s Holy Families, which could at that time be seen in a number of Parisian collections – in particular the Sainte Famille à l’escalier [The Holy Family on the Steps] (now in the Cleveland Museum of Art) where the figures, set in a triangle, are placed on the steps and seen from below against an architectural background whose severity is tempered by several landscape elements.
Bourdon chose to highlight Saint Elisabeth, dressed in yellow, who, with her book, resembles a kind of Sibyl prophesying the Saviour’s mission. The severity of the straight lines and the clearly defined forms have provoked comparisons with “Cubism”: the stone blocks form plinths for the sculpture-like figures; the vertical of the column echoes that of the palm tree, the facetted draperies and the characters either full face or in profile. The luminous harmony of the blue and yellow, and beautiful details like the basket of flowers at Mary’s feet, help bring this masterpiece closer to the Parisian Atticism of the mid 17th century.