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A woman holds on an infant’s foot as a man, a woman, and cherubs look on.

A light-skinned woman wearing a red and blue robe holds a light-skinned, reclining infant on her lap. She grasps his right ankle. The infant is held on his left side by a nude, light-skinned cherub. A pale woman in a gold robe sits behind the cherub. Behind the woman holding the child to the right is a smiling, light-skinned, bearded man. In front of the woman is a large copper bowl of water. She holds a white cloth in her right hand. Four more nude cherubs stand to her right. In the background is a lake surrounded by hills and houses.

Gallery Text

One of a group of five paintings of the Holy Family that Poussin produced between 1648 and 1655, this version is distinguished by the extensive landscape and the large bath basin that refers to Christ’s later baptism. Poussin emphasized Christ’s humanity by showing him writhing in fear at his mother’s attempt to bathe him. He receives firm support from the infant Saint John, who is accompanied by his mother, Saint Elizabeth. The classical putti assisting the Virgin could represent the Holy Innocents martyred during King Herod’s attempt to kill the infant Jesus. The landscape in this canvas is the most highly developed representation of nature in this group of paintings. The large lake, the passerby, the carefully placed structures along the water’s edge create a contemplative expanse of natural beauty.

Identification and Creation

Object Number
Nicolas Poussin, French (Les Andelys, France 1594 - 1665 Rome, Italy)
The Holy Family with the Infant Saint John the Baptist and Saint Elizabeth
Work Type
Persistent Link


Level 2, Room 2400, European Art, 17th century, Rome and Its Influence in the Seventeenth Century
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Physical Descriptions

Oil on canvas
99.9 x 132.4 cm (39 5/16 x 52 1/8 in.)
frame: 129.5 x 162 cm (51 x 63 3/4 in.)


Recorded Ownership History
Jean Froment de Veine (by 1678). Mme. D’ Hariague, Paris (?-1750), sold; [her sale, Mariette, Paris, April 14, 1750, lot 10]. M. Peilhon, Paris (?-1763), sold; [his sale, Remy, Paris, May 16, 1763, lot 56]. Duc des Deux Ponts (?-1778), sold; [his sale, Remy, Paris, April 6, 1778, lot 59]. M. Robit (?-1801), sold; [his sale, Paillet, Paris, May 11, 1801, lot 88]; [to Michael Bryan, London (1801-1809), sold, November 6, 1809, cat. 22]; to George Hibbert (1809-?). Lord Radstock, London (possibly by 1824-1826), sold; [his sale, Christie’s London, May 13, 1826, lot 33]. Sir Simon Clarke, Oakhill, Herts (?-1840), sold; [his sale, Christie’s London, May 8, 1840, lot 49]. Thomas Hope (by 1842-1917), sold; [through Christie’s London, July 20, 1917, lot 68]; [to Arthur Tooth & Sons, Ltd., London, (1917-?)]. [Trotti et Cie, Paris (by 1923)]. [Richard Owen, Paris, sold July 1923]; to Samuel Sachs (1923-1942), gift of Mrs. Samuel Sachs; to Fogg Art Museum, 1942.


1. According to Doris Wild’s 1980 publication “Nicolas Poussin,” this painting has been incorrectly identified as having belonged to and possibly been painted for the Duc de Créqui. The author notes that Jean Pesne’s 1678 engraving after the painting lists the work as being in the collection of Jean Froment de Veine. According to the Créqui collection inventory, however, the Créqui “Holy Family” was still in the Duc’s collection upon his death in 1687 (inventory no. 168). Hence the author concludes that the Fogg painting is not the one which was once in the Créqui collection. For further discussion about the painting and the Créqui and Veine collections, see Anthony Blunt’s 1966 “Paintings of Nicolas Poussin” and Pierre Rosenberg’s 1982 exhibition catalogue “France in the Golden Age.”

2. According to lot 10 of the Mariette, Paris, April 14, 1750 D’ Hariague sale, the work was painted by Poussin for Formont [sic] de Veine.

3. According to Pierre Rosenberg’s 1994 catalogue “Nicolas Poussin 1594-1665,” the painting was purchased by Michael Bryan at the May 11, 1801 Paillet sale in Paris and then sold to George Hibbert in London on November 6, 1809 (cat. 22). In volume 4 of the “Cleveland Studies in the History of Art” associated with the 1999 Poussin exhibition, Bryant is again listed as selling the work to Hibbert on November 6, 1809 (lot 22). Other sources, including Anthony Blunt’s 1966 “Paintings of Nicolas Poussin” and Pierre Rosenberg’s 1982 exhibition catalogue “France in the Golden Age,” only state that Bryan purchased the painting at the Paillet sale but do not mention the 1809 sale. Further information about the November 6, 1809 sale was not found, and thus while it is clear that Bryant sold the work to George Hibbert, the November 6, 1809 sale information remains unconfirmed.

4. Per Christie’s London the painting was bought at the July 20, 1917 sale by Arthur Tooth & Sons, Ltd., London.

Acquisition and Rights

Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Gift of Mrs. Samuel Sachs in memory of her husband, Samuel Sachs
Accession Year
Object Number
European and American Art

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Publication History

  • Highlights from the Collections of the Fogg Museum and Harvard Alumni of St. Louis, exh. cat., City Art Museum of St. Louis (St. Louis, 1964), cat. 37
  • Agnes Mongan, Memorial Exhibition: Works of Art from the Collection of Paul J. Sachs [1878-1965]: given and bequeathed to the Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, exh. cat., Harvard University (Cambridge, MA, 1965), p. 10, cat. no. 91, repr.
  • Anthony Blunt, The Paintings of Nicolas Poussin: A Critical Catalogue, Phaidon Press (London, 1966), cat. 54 pp. 40-41
  • Paintings, Drawings, and Sculpture from the Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, exh. cat., Yale University Art Gallery (New Haven, 1967), ill. n.p.
  • Sydney J. Freedberg, "Lorenzo Lotto to Nicolas Poussin", Apollo (May 1978), vol. 107, no. 195, pp. 389-397, p. 397, repr. p. 397 as fig. 18
  • Doris Wild, Nicolas Poussin: Leben, Werk, Exkurse, Orell Füssli Verlag (Zurich, 1980), vol. 2, cat. 167 p.154, repr.
  • Pierre Rosenberg, France in the Golden Age: Seventeenth-Century French Paintings in American Collections, exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, NY, 1982), cat. 93 pp. 313-314, repr.
  • Kristin A. Mortimer and William G. Klingelhofer, Harvard University Art Museums: A Guide to the Collections, Harvard University Art Museums and Abbeville Press (Cambridge and New York, 1986), no. 194, p. 170, repr.
  • Edgar Peters Bowron, European Paintings Before 1900 in the Fogg Art Museum: A Summary Catalogue including Paintings in the Busch-Reisinger Museum, Harvard University Art Museums (Cambridge, MA, 1990)
  • Pierre Rosenberg and Louis-Antoine Prat, Nicolas Poussin, 1594-1665, exh. cat., Réunion des Musées Nationaux (Paris, 1994), cat. 194 pp. 437-438, repr.
  • Masterpieces of world art : Fogg Art Museum, Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Busch-Reisinger Museum, 1997
  • Elizabeth Cropper, "Conception and Deception: Poussin's Mirrors", Cleveland Studies in the History of Art (1999), vol. 4, pp. 76-91, pp. 77, 86; repr. fig. 32
  • Diane DeGrazia, "Poussin's 'Holy Family on the Steps' in Context", Cleveland Studies in the History of Art (1999), vol. 4, pp. 26-63, pl. 12; pp. 38-39, 42, n. 84, 87
  • Rikke Foulke, "Nicolas Poussin: The Holy Family" (thesis (certificate in conservation), Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies, 1999), Unpublished, passim
  • Dr. Nigel Saint, Marguerite Yourcenar: Reading the Visual, Legenda (Oxford, England, 2000), pp. 21-24, repr. in b/w as fig. 1
  • Chikashi Kitazaki and Mina Oya, ed., Between Reality and Dreams: Nineteenth Century British and French Art from the Winthrop Collection of the Fogg Art Museum, exh. cat., National Museum of Western Art (Ueno, 2002), p. 14, repr. as fig. 7
  • Moana Weil-Curiel, "Bologne, Rome, Paris: Le "Museum Orsellianum" dans les collections françaises, Revue du Louvre : la revue des musées de France (June 2004), no. 3, repr. p. 47 as fig. 12
  • Perrin Stein, French Drawings from the British Museum: Clouet to Seurat, exh. cat., British Museum Press/Metropolitan Museum (New York NY, 2005), pp. 64, 66, 67, repr. in b/w as fig. 1
  • Pierre Rosenberg and Keith Christiansen, ed., Poussin and Nature: Arcadian Visions, exh. cat., Metropolitan Museum of Art / Yale University Press (New York, 2008), p. 242
  • Jacques Thuillier, Nicolas Poussin : Les écrits de Jacques Thuillier, ed. Serge Lemoine, Editions FATON (2015), cat. no. 195, repr. p. 556
  • Nicolas Milovanovic and Mickäel Szanto, ed., Poussin et Dieu, exh. cat., Hazan (Paris, 2015), pp. 216-7, fig. 138

Exhibition History

  • French Painting from the 12th-19th centuries, Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh, 09/28/1951 - 12/11/1952
  • Memorial Exhibition: Works of Art from the Collection of Paul J. Sachs [1878-1965] Given and Bequeathed to the Fogg Art Museum Harvard University Cambridge, Massachusetts, Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, 11/15/1965 - 01/15/1966; The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 12/19/1966 - 02/26/1967
  • Paintings, Drawings, Sculpture from the Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, 10/12/1967 - 12/03/1967
  • La Peinture Francaise au XVII Siecle dans Les Collections Americaines, Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais, Paris, 01/29/1982 - 04/26/1982; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 05/26/1982 - 08/22/1982; The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, 09/18/1982 - 11/28/1982
  • A Painting in Focus: Nicola Poussin's Holy Family on the Steps, Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, 11/14/1999 - 01/23/2000
  • Re-View: S424-426 Western Art from 1560 to 1900, Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Cambridge, 08/16/2008 - 06/18/2011
  • Ancient to Modern, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 01/31/2012 - 06/01/2013
  • 32Q: 2400 French/Italian/Spanish, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 11/16/2014 - 01/01/2050

Subjects and Contexts

  • Google Art Project

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