The Holy Family with Saint John the Baptist
The Holy Family with Saint John the Baptist

The Holy Family with Saint John the Baptist

Nosadella (Italian, 1529-1571)

Currently on View in H214
Image Licensing

Unlike earlier painters of this traditional subject, Nosadella aimed for neither "sweetness" nor "devoutness," qualities that contemporaries desired in devotional paintings by artists like Bellini and Francia. Nosadella's work was instead valued for its power and erudition. He invests his figures with an almost grotesque muscularity and packs the composition with a sense of congested intimacy that borders on awkwardness. The central act of the Virgin's presentation of the Christ Child is literally inverted, so that her back is turned and her restless child reaches backward toward the viewer.

Indianapolis Museum of Art: Highlights of the Collection (2005)

Ignored by the artist-biographer Giorgio Vasari and his contemporaries, Nosadella's oeuvre has been reassessed only recently by scholars, who have been challenged to distinguish his pictures from those of his master, Pellegrino Tibaldi. Even the authorship of The Holy Family with Saint John the Baptist, now confidently attributed to Nosadella, has oscillated between master and student.

In the early 1500s, Mannerist painters transformed the classically inspired ideals of beauty associated with Renaissance art. This picture displays several distinctive aspects of Mannerist vocabulary: formal complexity, awkward composition, eclectic style, and vibrant coloring. Unlike his master's fluid, near academic reading of Michelangelo's style, Nosadella invested his figures with an exaggerated, almost grotesque monumentality and placed them within a relationship of congested intimacy. His treatment of anatomy and draperies is restlessly idiosyncratic: a prime example is the tortuous knot and the vibrant color on the back of Mary's gown. This energy is mirrored by Jesus' and Mary's abrupt torsion toward the viewer, with their arms penetrating their respective spaces. On the other hand, Joseph and the Baptist's introverted postures emphasize a more contemplative state.

Those few works of him that are known . . . are distinguished by their good color . . . and are full of erudition. And if they are not . . . perfect and studied, they are perhaps more powerful, singular, and resolute.
-Carlo Cesare Malvasia, Felsina Pittrice, 1678

Provenance research is on-going at the Indianapolis Museum of Art at Newfields. Please contact Annette Schlagenhauff, Curator of European Art, at if you have questions, or if you have additional information to share with us.

Object Information

Nosadella (Italian, 1529-1571)
creation date
about 1550-1560
oil on panel
19-1/2 x 15 in.
approximately 28-1/2 x 24 x 2-1/4 in. (framed)
accession number
credit line
Martha Delzell Memorial Fund
Public Domain
European Painting and Sculpture Before 1800

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