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The Holy Family on the Steps

Classical art presents harmony, perfection, stability, peace, order and permanence (Honor & Fleming, 2005). It usually gives us a picture of an ideal world where mostly the subjects are religious, myths or heroism in history (Honor & Fleming, 2005). In such artwork, nobility, clarity, deep perspective, neat drawings, a smooth texture and a careful and perfect finish of the work are glorified.

The Holy Family on the steps is oil on canvas painting by a French painter, Nicolas Poussin which he did in 1648 (Hibbard, 2004). Nicolas Poussin was recognized as the best history painter in the 17th century. He learned art while he was in Paris but he later moved to Rome in 1624 where he continued with his artwork till his death. His work was mostly classical antiquity which he got interested after being influence a Venetian artist known as Titian (Hibbard, 2004). He got involved in painting history and religious subjects especially from the New Testament. Nicolas Poussin won top achievement in painting due to his ability to reduce striking narrative and to express extreme situations of human passion into a formal harmony in designs based on the beauty and precision of abstract forms. He would interpret his subject matter and even tell stories with a lot of concentration on emotional responses, every moment he would transcend it in a narrative form while still communicating and reducing the underlying passion into an image (Hibbard, 2004).

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Poussin work is adored for being orderly, logic and having clarity (JSTOR (Organization), 2002). During his time, art among the French was just meant for decorative purposes but in his work, he would integrate impulses from the Renaissance combining them with some conscious reference of classic work which brought excellence in his works. One of his famous and adored artwork is the Holy Family on the steps (JSTOR (Organization), 2002). The holy family on the steps which dates from his mature period, 1648, measuring 72.4 by 111.7, is a canvas that has a figural arrangement it's the background shows his genius in making a classical architecture to have a religious theme (Honor & Fleming, 2005).

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In the painting, the Virgin seats at the base of steps holding Christ. The child is reaching for an apple from John the Baptist who is held by his mother, Saint Elizabeth, who seats at the far left. Saint Joseph, the Virgin Mary's husband is captured concentrating in some drawings using a compass. Joseph drawing with a compass is used by the painter as an illusion of carpentry and also as a symbol of God's work as the architect of all the creations. The artist also uses this to suggest that artists' creative powers are divinely inspired. The painting also contains a basket with fruits placed just above the ground and the Virgin with Christ at the apex of the triangle; this is to suggest their role in the gateway to heaven.

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Just like in his other works, Poussins aims to have a completely harmonized composition in the holy family on the steps artwork. To achieve this, he uses a triangular format to contain his figures, with the head of the Virgin Mary and that of the Christ Child placed as the apex of the pyramid. The work is enriched with naturalistic touches evident where, for instance, the hands of the Virgin Mary are less bloated and the anatomy of Joseph toes well captured. The Holy Family on the Steps gives an image of the classical art principle orderliness and permanency in artwork. A pyramid gives an absolute stable form of work; this is because this form also gives the image an idea security and peace. The use of the pyramid follows the idea that the eye of any viewer is always drawn to the top of the pyramid and this is where the most important feature of a painting are placed. In this artwork, the head of Virgin Mary and that of the Christ the child are the focal points are they are placed at the top of the pyramid. These focal points face frontally where can get the most of direct light. Saint Elizabeth and the infant, St. John is to the left and further down the pyramid and they are partly in a shadow. St. Joseph is not significantly placed in the painting, this may suggest that he does not have a core role in the group and he appears like he is in a shadow.

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The painter thus has used colors to communicate his message, further he makes use of lines to indicate what he means, for instance, he has placed the heads of the people in the painting are along the lines of the pyramid. The Virgin Mary is the key subject of the painting thus she is placed higher above the others to capture the first sight of any person looking at the painting. In comparison to the others, she is centrally placed suggesting her strength both emotional and physical. She is also brought out as the subject of the painting as well as the most favored by God. She looks like she is in a world of her own but conscious of those around her. The Holy Family on the steps painting can be viewed from expressive and formal theories. From a formal theory, Nicolas was influenced by Titian into painting and if reviewed from based on expressive theory; Nicolas Poussin expressed himself literally using this painting. This painting undoubtedly illustrates one of the most great and inspiring works of Nicolas Poussin.

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The information about Nicolas Poussin art work is widely available. I did not find any difficulties in finding the information. Various resources were available for references, I used textbooks such as the holy family on the steps, and the information was also available at various sites in the internet for example I used the art-cyclopedia, web-museum, wikipedia and the great masters gallery for the information. It was however, difficult to locate these sites because different spellings are used for the name Poussin. There are sites where it is spelt without the letter 'o' and others have a completely different spelling for the name.

I was moved to choose this artwork first due to the popularity of Nicolas Poussin work and secondly due to the appealing nature of this artwork which can make anyone to yearn to analyze the meaning that it holds. Anyone looking at this painting would be compiled to look for its deep meaning that what is generally seen. Researching and learning about this piece of painting was very enjoyable and more so it was very educative, there are techniques in painting that I came to learn as I was researching on this painting. I came to learn that a painting may hold a lot of meanings besides what is easily seen at first sight of it.

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