The Holy Family
19.6 cm x 14.5 cm (7 11/16 in. x 5 11/16 in.)
Lucas van Leyden
(Leiden, The Netherlands, circa 1494 - 1533)
Medium and Support:
Blanton Museum of Art, The University of Texas at Austin, Purchase with funds provided by M. K. Hage, Jr., Helen Lea, Marvin Vexler, ’48, the Friends of the Archer M. Huntington Art Gallery, and the Dean’s Associates of the College of Fine Arts, 1992
This is a perfect example of the qualities that place Lucas van Leyden among the greatest engravers of the sixteenth century. Its lovely invention, the Holy Family sharing a bite on the outskirts of a town, blurs the boundaries between a traditional Rest on the Flight into Egypt and a generic devotional image. The observation of the world is searching and minute, like that of early Netherlandish painting. Tender, quietly absorbed, unassuming despite their bulk and rather heavy proportions, the figures and their interaction communicate a harmonious and intimate domesticity. In van Leyden’s later development, the influence of Italian style would inhibit this whimsy and sincerity, which, undiluted in early works like this, lies at the root of Dutch realism.
Van Leyden’s technique was just as singular in conception and nuanced in effect. His engraving tool, or burin, seems to have barely grazed the plate, leaving exceptionally shallow strokes that yield mere filament lines. Built in gossamer layers, his textures appear silken, light soft, tone silvery and almost continuous in gradation. Again, these properties are most pronounced in the early engravings and are evident in only the earliest impressions. These properties also indicate a distinctive source of van Leyden’s style in the appearance of metalpoint drawing, as they point to tendencies of engraving in the north Netherlands through the century.