La Sagrada Familia
Feast day: First Sunday after Christmas
Patron of the Congregations of the Holy Cross and the Holy Family and role model for Christian family life.
Essay by Karen S. Billings
A classic depiction shows of the Holy Family (fig. 1) standing on a brown and green landscape with a yellow background and fluffy white clouds in the upper corners. The Virgin Mary, holding Jesus’ right hand, wears a blue mantle over a red gown with gold trim, and she appears to be wearing a white veil over her head and face. Joseph, holding Jesus’ left hand, wears a yellow cloak over a green robe with gold trim, and he carries a staff of white lilies. The Christ Child, standing between the two, wears a classic blue cloak with gold trim, and the dove of the Holy Spirit hovers above the Family. Mary and Joseph have circular halos above their heads, while the Christ Child is shown with a tres potencias (three powers) halo around his head. A similar depiction of the Holy Family (fig. 2) shows Mary and Joseph on a green ground with a blue and beige background. Mary wears a simple red robe with a blue mantle and a white scarf around her neck; she is further identified by a yellow aura and a crown of stars around her head. Joseph wears a simple green tunic with a yellow mantle; he carries a staff of white lilies and has a round halo encircling his head.
The Christ Child wears a simple gray cloak and is identified by the yellow rays emanating from around his head; the white dove of the Holy Spirit hovers above the family. A much less formal depiction (fig. 3) shows the Holy Family smiling, almost jauntily, standing on a brown, red and pink ground with a beige background and fluffy clouds around the upper border. Mary wears traditional red and blue garments, along with a white necklace and earrings. Joseph wears a green robe with white decorations under a yellow cloak, and he carries a staff of hollyhocks. Mary and Joseph both have round halos about their heads. The Christ Child walks between them, wearing a traditional red robe with a white collar; Mary and Joseph hold him by the arms and his hands are upturned. The white dove of the Holy Spirit hovers above the family, with a triangular-shaped set of rays symbolizing of the Holy Trinity, shining down through the clouds on the Family. An inscription at the bottom of the retablo further identifies the Family as “Jesus Maria y Jose” (Jesus, Mary, and Joseph).
Figure 1. The Holy Family / La Sagrada Familia
Anonymous, Mexico, Nineteenth Century.
Oil on tin. 7 x 5”. NMSU Art Gallery Collection #1965.2.8.
Donor: Mr. Fran E. Tolland.
Figure 2. The Holy Family / La Sagrada Familia
Anonymous, Mexico. Nineteenth Century.
Oil on tin. NMSU Art Gallery Collection #1966.4.70
Donor: Dr. and Mrs. Andrew M. Babey.
Figure 3. The Holy Family / La Sagrada Familia
Anonymous, Mexico. Nineteenth Century.
Oil on tin. 14 x 10”. NMSU Art Gallery Collection #1998.3.6
Brittanica Online: https://www.britannica.com/topic/Feast-of-the-Holy-Family Britannica online, accessed 3/12/19 (earlier)
Congregation of Holy Cross. “Spirituality.” Accessed April 21, 2019. https://holycrosscongregation.org/spirituality/.
Chorpenning, J. F, ed. Mexican Devotional Retablos: From the Peters Collection. Philadelphia: Saint Joseph’s University Press, 1994.
Giffords, G. F. Mexican Folk Retablos: Masterpieces on Tin. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1974.
Hall, James. Dictionary of Subjects and Symbols in Art. New York: Harper & Row, 1974.
Raguin, Virginia. “Counter Reformation Artistic Ideals.” College of the Holy Cross. Accessed March 6, 2019. https://www.worcesterart.org/collection/academic-collaboratives/pdf/counter-reformation-artistic-ideals-holy-cross-wam.pdf.
Rudge, F.M. “Congregations of the Holy Family.” Accessed April 21, 2019. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/07407c.htm.
Zarur, Elizabeth Netto Calil and Charles Muir Lovell, eds. Art and Faith in Mexico: The Nineteenth-Century Retablo Tradition. Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press, 2001.