Valentin de Boulogne

(Coulommiers, France, 1591 – Rome, 1632)

Holy Family

ca. 1620

oil on canvas

174.9 x 124.3 cm

Inv. no. 589


Also known under the names of Jean Valentin and Jean de Boulogne, this French painter travelled to Rome around 1612, where he acquainted himself with the works of Caravaggio (1571-1610). As one can clearly appreciate here, Caravaggio would exert a considerable influence on his painting not only in the naturalistic depiction of the figures but also in the dramatic, almost theatrical lighting and in the overall scene resembling a frozen instant.

The work is of great documentary interest in as much as the insights it offers into the training of this great French master and his connections with other artists. It was painted in his youth, in the years when he would have coincided in Rome with his fellow-countryman Simon Vouet―the Virgin Mary here has been with compared with Vouet’s models―and with Bartolomeo Cavarozzi († after 1621), whose influence can be seen in the composition, the treatment of the child angels and the anecdotal tone. At the time, this kind of exchange and borrowing was common among artists working in Rome.

The depiction of the Holy Family without haloes around their heads, the naturalness of the characters’ features and the rendering of the angels’ wings give spectators the feeling of being witnesses to a real scene happening right in front of their eyes.

The traits that would define his mid-career painting are already recognisable in St Joseph, who responds to de Boulogne’s stock male models, as well as in the gaze of the Child Jesus, which transmits the pensive, nostalgic melancholy that would be a signature of this artist’s style.