The Holy Family in the Carpenter's workshop; the Virgin seated on the ground nursing the Christ Child, with Anna at her side, St Joseph engaged in carpentry at a table, a woman seen knocking at the window behind. c.1645 Pen and brown ink, with grey-brown wash, touched with white


© The Trustees of the British Museum

  • RectoRecto

Department: Prints & Drawings

Registration number: 1900,0824.144

Bibliographic reference
Royalton-Kisch 2010 39 (Rembrandt)
Benesch 1973 516
Hind 1915-31 61

Dutch Roy XVIIc

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Object types
drawing (scope note | all objects)

paper (all objects)
drawn (scope note | all objects)
Production person
Drawn by Rembrandt (biographical details | all objects)
1647 (circa)
Schools /Styles
Dutch (scope note | all objects)

The Holy Family in the Carpenter's workshop; the Virgin seated on the ground nursing the Christ Child, with Anna at her side, St Joseph engaged in carpentry at a table, a woman seen knocking at the window behind. c.1645
Pen and brown ink with brown wash, touched with white; some grey may have been mixed with parts of the brown wash.
Verso: laid down on a card with gold edges, perhaps a remnant of a larger, eighteenth-century mat.
No watermark visible.

Height: 184 millimetres
Width: 246 millimetres (chain lines horizontal, 23mm apart)

Good; perhaps a little trimmed.

Curator's comments
Literature: W.W. Robinson, in H. Bevers et.al. 'Drawings by Rembrandt and his Pupils: Telling the Difference', exh.cat. The J Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, 2009, cat.no.22.1 (as Rembrandt, c.1645).

Entry from Martin Royalton-Kisch, ‘Catalogue of drawings by Rembrandt and his school’, 2010, Rembrandt, cat. no.39.
The drawing is unusual in depicting the Holy Family including Anna and another figure (St Elizabeth?) knocking at the window.[1] Rembrandt seems to have been concerned to represent the figures informally in a domestic setting so that the scene might almost pass as taken from everyday life, unconnected with biblical story. Some of the same elements reappear in other works associated with his name, as for example in the school paintings of the 'Holy Family' in the Rijksmuseum and the Louvre (Bredius 568 and 563 respectively).[2] The sheet is also unusual among Rembrandt's biblical drawings for its pictorial completeness and it was clearly intended to be an independent work in its own right.
The date of the drawing is difficult to establish. Stylistic comparisons with undisputed drawings by the artist include analogies with the 'Star of the Kings' (here cat. no.38; 1910,0212.089, Benesch 736) of c.1645-7. Though lacking the hatching seen in that sheet, the 'Holy Family in the Carpenter's Workshop' nevertheless reveals clear similarities in the central group of figures, drawn boldly in pen lines that meander around the forms with few interruptions. The figure of Joseph, in a slightly more rectilinear style, resembles (though more distantly) the pen-and-ink sketch of 'Jan Six' in the Six collection of c.1647 (Benesch 767). Yet the atmospheric handling of the light seems also to anticipate Rembrandt's style in the 1650s as seen in the 'Painter's Studio with a Model' of c.1655 in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford (Benesch 1161). There are few fixed points in establishing the chronology of Rembrandt's pen drawings in this period and the date c.1647 proposed here is therefore approximate. It nevertheless places the drawing later than most previous writers have done and a few years after the painted and etched works to which it has generally been compared (see Lit. below). The Leningrad painting of the 'Holy Family with Angels' of 1645 (Bredius 570), though different in format and iconography, also shows St Joseph at work in an interior but could have been made earlier. The composition of the slightly later painting of the 'Holy Family' in Kassel (Bredius 572), which is dated 1646, also includes some of the motifs in the present drawing.
A copy is in the Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, Mass.[3] A version in the Princes Gate Collection (now Courtauld Institute of Art, Benesch 620A), executed in a style analogous to the present sheet (and which Benesch dated c.1648-9) is less certainly by Rembrandt and could be a pupil's work. The same applies to another variant in the Louvre (Benesch 517)[4] and to the drawings in Bayonne and the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge (Benesch 567 and 5 69) that have been related in the past to the Leningrad painting. It has also been pointed out that a pupil borrowed the figure of the Virgin for a figure in a sketch in Chicago of the 'Satyr and the Peasant' (Benesch A31).[5] Another pupil or follower, possibly Ferdinand Bol, drew a 'Holy Family in an Interior' (now in Darmstadt) in a similar technique and style, perhaps at the same period.[6]

[1] See Réau, II, 1957, pp.149-50, who traces the origins of representations of the wider Holy Family, nowhere united in the Gospels, to the Meditations of the pseudo-Bonaventura, Ch.XII.
[2] The Rijksmuseum painting was rejected by Gerson (Bredius-Gerson, 1969, no.568). The Louvre's has now been tentatively assigned to Ferdinand Bol (Corpus, III, 1989, no.C87). The Amsterdam painting could be by the same hand.
[3] Inv. no.1910.7 (see Cambridge, Mass., 1940, no.531); pen and brown ink with brown and blue wash, 198 x 229. Repr. Valentiner, I, 1925, no.325b.
[4] The latter was not included, and therefore rejected, by Starcky in Exh. Paris, Louvre, 1988-9. Another version, in Rotterdam, accepted by Benesch (his no.620) was rightly rejected by J. Giltaij in Rotterdam, 1988, no.146, with the plausible suggestion that it could be by Willem Drost.
[5] By Sumowski, 1981, tentatively identifying the pupil as B. Fabritius (see Lit. below).
[6] Repr. Valentiner, I, 1925, p.XII; Sumowski 195x.

LITERATURE (always as Rembrandt unless otherwise stated):
Lippmann, IV, no.64; Kleinmann, IV, no.7; London, 1915, no.61 (c.1640-50; copy now in Fogg Art Museum noted [see Comment above]; compares 'Adoration of Shepherds', HdG.988, V.294, not in Benesch ); Bredt, 1921/28, II, repr. p.13/15; Valentiner, I, 1925, no.325a, repr. (c.1640); Weisbach, 1926, p.161, repr. fig.30 (finished work in its own right; complete interiors rare in Rembrandt's oeuvre); Van Dyke, 1927, p. 119 (by van der Pluym); Benesch, 1935, p.33 (c.1642; compares etching 'St Jerome in a dark Chamber', 1642, Bartsch 105, Hind 201); Benesch, III, 1955/73, no.516, repr. fig.643/677 (c.1640-42; compares Louvre version, Benesch 517 and Louvre painting of 1640, Bredius 563, as well as the etching 'St Jerome in a dark Chamber' as in 1935; notes Seilern version, reproduced only in 1973 ed., Benesch 620A); Drost, 1957, p.174 (compares Elsheimer); Benesch, 1960, p.24 and no.40 (compares 'Faust' and 'Virgin and Child with the Cat and Snake' etchings, Bartsch 270 and 63, Hind 260 and 275); London, 1961, p.29, under no.193 (follows Benesch, noting also Louvre and Kassel paintings, Bredius 570 and 572); Sumowski, 1961, p.10 (influenced the St Joseph in 'Holy Family' painting by B. Fabritius); Scheidig, 1962, p.49, no.68, repr. (compares Louvre version, Benesch 517); Benesch, 1964, pp.129-30, reprinted 1970, p.259 (dates Seilern sheet later, to c.1648-9, anticipating etching of 1654, 'Virgin and Child with the Cat and Snake', Bartsch 63, Hind 275); Slive, 1965, II, no. 511, repr. (c.1640-43); Bonnier, 1970/69, repr. in colour, fig.24; Bernhard, 1976, II, repr. p.290; Sumowski, I, 1979, p.404, under no.190x (influence on Bol); Amsterdam, 1981, p.51, n.3 (Joseph often represented by Rembrandt specifically as a carpenter); Sumowski, IV, 1981, p.1858, under no.854xx (see n.5 above); Hoekstra, III (deel 1), 1983, p.68, repr. (includes Anna; figure looks through window as in etched 'Virgin and Child with the Cat and Snake', Bartsch 63, Hind 275); Sumowski, 'Gem.', II, 1983, p.918, under no.561 (as in 1961); Corpus, III, 1989, p.565 (by Rembrandt or his workshop); Giltaij, 1995, p.100 (definitely not by Rembrandt; perhaps by Flinck, compares 'Good Samaritan', Rotterdam, Benesch 684); Exh. Bremen, 2000-2001, p.82, under no.36, repr. fig.a (compares motif of Van Hoogstraten drawing of same subject in Bremen, inv.1882, Sumowski 1189x); Dibbits, 2006, p.115, repr. fig.12 (Rembrandt interested in Holy Family themes; relates to school of Rembrandt painting in Rijksmuseum); Schwartz, 2006, p.316, fig.566.

holy family (scope note | all objects)

Associated names
Representation of St Anne (biographical details | all objects)
Representation of Virgin Mary (biographical details | all objects)
Representation of St Joseph (biographical details | all objects)
Representation of Jesus Christ (biographical details | all objects)

Acquisition date

Acquisition name
Bequeathed by Henry Vaughan (biographical details | all objects)
Previous owner/ex-collection Samuel Woodburn (his sale, Christie's, 13.vi.1860/1405 as 'Rembrandt, Van Rhyn - The Holy Family in a room, Joseph wo) (biographical details | all objects)
Previous owner/ex-collection François Fagel (possibly) (biographical details | all objects)

Acquisition notes
Possibly Greffier François Fagel sale, London, T. Philipe, 23 May 1799, lot 363, £2-15-0; and possibly sale, T. Philipe, London, 24 April 1801, lot 31 (although either or both references may be to the copy at the Fogg Art Museum, first recorded in the Lawrence collection); bequeathed by Henry Vaughan, 1900.

Exhibition History
1901, London, no.A115;
1938, London, no.61;
1956, London, p.22, no.3;
1992, London, BM, Drawings by Rembrandt and his Circle, no.43
2009/10 Dec-Feb, Los Angeles, J Paul Getty Museum, Rembrandt and his pupils.

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