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A woman in gold and blue holds a sleeping child, lifting her veil up.

A woman in draped gold and blue clothing sits with a child draped across her legs. She turns and leans down to look at the child, her right hand lifting up her translucent veil slightly to keep it out of the child’s face. Her other hand gently cradles one of the childs feet. The child seems to be sleeping, with one arm draped over their chest and the other arm by their side, holding a peach.

Gallery Text

A Tuscan contemporary of Caravaggio, Orazio Gentileschi began his career in the Eternal City and later worked in Genoa, France, and England, conveying the innovations of early seventeenth-century Roman painting to other European centers. This work emphasizes the sacramental meaning of Christ’s birth by foreshadowing his death. The Child sleeps in the Virgin’s lap, his languid pose reminiscent of a Pietà. He rests on a white swaddling cloth that may allude to a burial shroud, while his mother draws a transparent veil over his head. In his left hand he holds an apricot, the forbidden fruit, which refers to the original sin that his death on the cross will redeem. Before a dark void, the Virgin and Child are rendered as palpable presences acting within our world — a theatrical presentation enhanced by the close cropping of the composition and the stark, Caravaggesque contrast of the dramatically illuminated figures and impenetrable background.

Identification and Creation

Object Number
Orazio Gentileschi, Italian (1563 - 1639)
The Virgin with the Sleeping Christ Child
Other Titles
Alternate Title: The Madonna with the Sleeping Christ Child
Work Type
c. 1610
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
99.8 x 85.3 cm (39 5/16 x 33 9/16 in.)
frame: 133 x 118.6 x 8.5 cm (52 3/8 x 46 11/16 x 3 3/8 in.)


Recorded Ownership History
Private collection, Milan (1931). Count Alessandro Contini-Bonacossi, Florence (1939-55) sold; [through Thomas Agnew & Sons, London, April 14, 1976] to William A. Coolidge, gift; to Fogg Art Museum, 1976.

Acquisition and Rights

Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Gift through William A. Coolidge in memory of Marian Lady Bateman
Accession Year
Object Number
European and American Art

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Publication History

  • R. Ward Bissell, "Orazio Gentileschi's 'Young Woman with a Violin'", Bulletin of the Detroit Institute of Arts (Detroit, 1967), vol. 46, no. 4, pp. 71-77, repr. as fig.7
  • Sydney J. Freedberg, "Lorenzo Lotto to Nicolas Poussin", Apollo (May 1978), vol. 107, no. 195, pp. 389-397, p. 393-394, repr. p. 395 as pl. IV
  • Benedict Nicolson, The International Caravaggesque Movement: Lists of Pictures by Caravaggio and his Followers through Europe from 1590 to 1650, Phaidon (Oxford, 1979), pp. 53, 225
  • 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. 180, p. 158, repr.
  • Benedict Nicolson, Caravaggism in Europe, Umberto Allemandi & C. (Turin, 1990), vol. 1, pp. 114, 220, vol. 2, pl. 205
  • 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), p. 47, color plate; pp. 108, 342, repr. b/w cat. no. 714
  • Masterpieces of world art : Fogg Art Museum, Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Busch-Reisinger Museum, 1997
  • Erich Schleier, "An Unknown St. Catherine of Alexandria by (or after?) Orazio Gentileschi", Gazette des Beaux-Arts (February 2000), v. 135, no. 6, pp. 167-170, p. 169 and cover, repr. in color
  • Keith Christiansen and Judith Mann, Orazio and Artemisia Gentileschi, exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, NY, 2001), cat. no. 28, pp. 144-147, repr. in color
  • [Reproduction only], Saint Louis Art Museum Magazine, (April 2002-June 2002)., repr. in color p. 3
  • Stephan Wolohojian and Alvin L. Clark, Jr., Harvard Art Museum/ Handbook, ed. Stephan Wolohojian, Harvard Art Museum (Cambridge, 2008), p. 93, repr

Exhibition History

  • Orazio and Artemisia Gentileschi, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 02/14/2002 - 05/12/2002; Saint Louis Art Museum, St. Louis, 06/15/2002 - 09/15/2002
  • Re-View: S422-423 Western Art of the Middle Ages & Renaissance, 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

  • Collection Highlights
  • Google Art Project

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Verification Level

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