Orazio Borgianni (Rome 1574 - Rome 1616)
Holy Family with Saint Elizabeth, the Infant Saint John and an Angel


Oil on canvas

226 x 173.5 cm

Palazzo Barberini

Inv: 5005

The painting dates from the last years of the painter’s life, on his return to Rome after a period of absence, during which he absorbed Caravaggio’s innovations: the sharp contrast between light and shade, the tactile depth of the figures, which move as if on a stage, and the humble setting of the sacred stories represented as if they were everyday events.
Here the Holy Family, with the addition of the infant Saint John and Saint Elizabeth on the far left, emerges from the dark background. The source of light is at the top left, behind the angel, as can be inferred from the shadow his head casts on the violin.
The dialogue between Jesus and Saint John is intimate and immediate. The dove is part of a game which may appear childlike, yet in reality, interpreted at a deeper level, it is the symbol of the Holy Ghost that will descend on Jesus when he is baptized by John.
John the Baptist’s attributes appear at the bottom left: a cross wrapped in camel skin, alluding to the Saint’s humble garments, a bowl which will hold the water for the Baptism, and a scroll on which we can only read “Dei,” part of the phrase “Ecce Agnus Dei” (“Behold the Lamb of God”) which Saint John addressed to Jesus.