O P E N
S T O R A G E
Flemish, active 1549 – 1570
The Holy Family with an Angel, c. 1600
Oil on panel
45 x 36 in.
Collection of The Bass
Gift of John and Johanna Bass
Marcellus Coffermans was an Antwerp painter who was admitted as a master to the St. Lucas Guild in 1549. His name appears in the records of the Guild on various other occasions, but details of his life are not well known. He was a contemporary of Pieter Bruegel the Elder, but painted in an archaizing style following various masters of an earlier generation.
The panel depicts the Virgin enthroned in a landscape with the nude Christ Child in her lap. An angel on the right offers a bunch of grapes, a symbol of the Eucharist, to the Christ Child. St. Joseph occupies an ambiguous space on a lower level, almost hidden by the Virgin’s mantle. Unlike the Virgin, the Child and the angel, St. Joseph’s features are not generalized and have a portrait-like character. He also holds contemporaneous items including a book and reading glasses.
The depiction of Joseph as a scholarly thinker was a new invention in early sixteenth-century Netherlandish painting. Until the end of the Fifteenth Century, St. Joseph was usually shown as a dignified biblical elder, or as a humble carpenter. As such, he was never shown so boldly engaging the viewer as he does with his gaze in this painting. This new personification has led scholars to conclude that the figure of St. Joseph in this painting is, in fact, also a portrait of the donor, who commissioned the painting.