From 11 October to 13 November 2011, a religious masterpiece will be on view in De Nieuwe Kerk Amsterdam
: The Holy Family by Rembrandt (1645). For five weeks this painting can be admired in an ideal setting, displayed alone in the sanctuary, once the place of the high altar. For almost 240 years, this painting, which was acquired by Catharine the Great in 1772 from the Crozat Collection in Paris, has been one of the most important works at the Hermitage in St Petersburg. Soon you will be able to see it in Amsterdam, at De Nieuwe Kerk at Dam Square, where it will be a major attraction in all its serene majesty.
With this painting, De Nieuwe Kerk is initiating a new tradition. Every year, it will be displaying a religious masterpiece from a museum or private collection. It will ask the director of a major international museum to choose his or her favourite religious painting or object, a masterpiece that may be related to any world religion. In each case, the featured choice will be an important work that calls for contemplation and introspection, that dazzles from the sanctuary, and that invites people to make a 'pilgrimage', as it were, to come and see it. This year, Professor Mikhail Piotrovsky, Director of the State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg, was asked to select a work. He chose Rembrandt's The Holy Family, dating from 1645 (oil on canvas, 117 x 91 cm).
The Holy Family
The Holy Family consists of the Virgin Mary and the Christ Child with Joseph. This Biblical scene excels in the simple, domestic atmosphere it radiates. Its tranquil composition has three highlights: one on the cradle, one on Mary's face, and one on the angels who have appeared in the corner, hovering in the sober interior. Mary is briefly distracted from her book and solicitously bends over the cradle. The Child is fast asleep; one tiny hand rests in a relaxed pose on the sheet. Mary's left foot rests on a footstove, beside which a small twig fire is burning. The manger (here a cradle) is lined with fur. A wonderful small cloak hangs loosely over the hood. In the background, Joseph the carpenter is working at his bench, in front of a wall displaying some of his tools. Rembrandt had a special fondness for the theme of the Holy Family: he devoted four paintings to it.