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Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature
is the general title, in the language of art, of the various representations of the domestic life of the Virgin Mary and the infant Jesus and his attendants. "In the early part of the Middle Ages, when the object in view was to excite devotion, the Virgin and Child were usually the only persons represented. At a later period, Joseph, Elizabeth. St. Anna (the mother of the Virgin), and John the Baptist were included. Some of the old German painters have added the twelve apostles as children and playfellows of the infant Christ, as well as their mothers, as stated in the legends. The Italian school, with its fine feeling for composition, was the first to recognize how many figures the group must comprise if the interest is to remain undivided and be concentrated on one figure, whether that figure be the Madonna or the Child. Two masters are pre-eminent in this species of representation- Leonardo da Vinci and Raphael" (Chambers). Mrs. Jameson (Legends of the Madonna, p. 252 sq.) also insists on drawing a distinction between the domestic and the devotional treatment. The latter, she says, is a group in which the sacred personages are placed in direct relation to the worshippers, and their supernatural character is paramount to every other. The former, a group of the Holy Family so called, in which the personages are placed in direct relation to each other by some link of action or sentiment which expresses the family connection between them, or by some action which has a dramatic rather than a religious significance.
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McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Holy Family'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​tce/​h/holy-family.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.