Schongauer.—Holy Family.A subject so sacred as the Madonna was long held in too great reverence to permit of any common or realistic treatment. The pastoral setting brought the mother and her babe into somewhat closer and more human relations than had before been deemed possible; but art was slow to presume any further upon this familiarity. The Madonna as a domestic subject, represented in the interior of her home, was hesitatingly adopted, and has been so rarely treated, even down to our own times, as to form but a small group of pictures in the great body of art.
The Northern painters naturally led the way. Peculiarly home-loving in their tastes, their ideal woman is the hausfrau, and it was with them no lowering of the Madonna's dignity to represent her in this capacity. A picture in the style of Quentin Massys hangs in the Munich Gallery, and shows a Flemish bedroom of the fifteenth century. At the left stands the bed, and on the right burns the fire, with a kettle hanging over it. The Virgin sits alone with her babe at her breast.
More frequently a domestic scene of this sort includes other figures belonging to the Holy Family. A typical German example is the picture by Schongauer in the Belvedere Gallery at Vienna. The Virgin is seated in homely surroundings, intent upon a bunch of grapes which she holds in her hands, and which she has taken from a basket standing on the floor beside her. Long, waving hair falls over her shoulders; a snowy kerchief is folded primly in the neck of her dress; she is the impersonation of virgin modesty. Her baby boy stands on her lap, nestling against his mother; his eyes fixed on the fruit, his eager little face glowing with pleasure. Beyond are seen the cattle, which Joseph is feeding. He pauses at the door, a bundle of hay in his arms, to look in with fond pride at his young wife and her child.
Schongauer's work belongs to the latter part of the fifteenth century, and there was nothing similar to it in Italy at the same period. It is true that Madonnas in domestic settings have been attributed to contemporaneous Italians, but they were probably by some Flemish hand.
Raphael.—Madonna dell' Impannata.Giulio Romano, a pupil of Raphael, was perhaps the first of the Italians to give any domestic touch to the subject of the Madonna and child. His Madonna della Catina of the Dresden Gallery is well known. It is so called from the basin in which the Christ-child stands while the little St. John pours in water from a pitcher for the bath. Another picture by the same artist shows the Madonna seated with her child in the interior of a bedchamber. This was one of the "discoveries" of the late Senator Giovanni Morelli, the critic, and is in a private collection in Dresden.
To Giulio Romano also, according to recent criticism, is due the domestic Madonna known as the "Impannata," and usually attributed to Raphael. It is probable that both artists had a hand in it, the master in the arrangement of the composition, the pupil in its execution. A bed at one side is concealed by a green curtain. In the rear is the cloth-covered window which gives the picture its name. Elizabeth and Mary Magdalene have brought home the child, who springs to his mother's arms, smiling back brightly at his friends. One other Madonna from Raphael's brush (the Orleans) has an interior setting, but the domestic environment here is undoubtedly the work of some Flemish painter of later date.
By the seventeenth century, the Holy Family in a home environment can be found somewhat more often in various localities. By the French painter Mignard there is a well-known picture in the Louvre called La Vierge à la Grappe. By F. Barocci of Urbino there is an example in the National Gallery known as the Madonna del Gatto, in which the child holds a bird out of the reach of a cat. A similar motif, certainly not a pleasant one, is seen in Murillo's Holy Family of the Bird, in Madrid. By Salimbeni, in the Pitti, is a Holy Family in an interior, showing the boy Jesus and his cousin St. John playing with puppies.
Rembrandt's domestic Madonna pictures, equally homely as to environment, are by no means scenes of hilarity, but rather of frugal contentment. Two similar works bear the title of Le Ménage du Menuisier—the Carpenter's Home. In both, the scene is the interior of a common room devoted to work and household purposes. Joseph is seen in the rear at his bench, while the central figures are the mother and child.
In the Louvre picture, the Virgin's mother is present, caressing her grandchild, who is held at his mother's breast. The composition at St. Petersburg (Hermitage Gallery) is simpler, and shows the Virgin contemplating her babe as he lies asleep in the cradle. Another well-known picture by Rembrandt is in the Munich Gallery, where again we have signs of the carpenter's toil, but where the laborer has stopped for a moment to peep at the babe, who has gone off to dreamland at his mother's breast and now sleeps sweetly in her lap. Let those who think such pictures too homely for a sacred theme compare them with the simplicity of the Gospels.