|The Holy Family
This traditional subject of Renaissance and later art often uses Jesus and his parents to comment on human family.
In the image at left, for example, the human figures are arranged along the horizontal axis, the woman on the left gesturing to direct the viewer to contemplate the happy domestic scene.
The communion between human family and the "family" of the Trinity is expressed by putting the boy Jesus, center of the horizontal axis, also on the central vertical axis that leads up to the Holy Spirit (the dove) and the Father (whose triangular halo further emphasizes the Trinity as the great harmony of which human family is an image).
A third axis leads the eye back from the boy along the classical colonnade toward the church belfry, whose openings have the same round-top shape as the composition itself. It also leads forward, out of the picture toward a point close to the viewer's left shoulder. It thus links the Holy Family both to the little society that stands together before the painting and to the large society that extends from ancient times to the present.
In the composition as in the theology, the shared point of these axes is Jesus, the God-Man who unites Heaven and Earth, past and present, the beholder and the beheld.
Some Holy Family images are intended less as commentaries on human family than as celebrations of particular saints who have been placed anachronistically within the Holy Family's domestic space (example).
At left, Ridolfi's Holy Family
Sarto, 15th century
Piombo, 16th century
Mexican altar arrangement, 1991