This early 17th-century engraving by Schelte Adams à Bolswert (1586-1659) is after a painting by Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640).
It’s remarkable that Bolswert produced this engraving during Rubens’ lifetime. It’s around 400 years old. He collaborated with the great Flemish master on numerous occasions, with Rubens casting an eye over his work - occasionally retouching his proof designs.
Here, we see Mary nursing the infant Christ while her relative Elizabeth looks on. Joseph stands behind while John the Baptist, full of youthful energy, plays with a goldfinch. It’s a gentle moment of domestic bliss, grounding the Holy Family in a relatable scene familiar in 17th-century homes. It’s said that the two children could well be Rubens’ own sons.
The inclusion of a Goldfinch is particularly interesting and has a dual meaning. Firstly, it alludes to religious symbolism - the legend that it gained its red spot when it plucked a thorn from Christ’s brow on the way to calvary. But also, goldfinches were a popular pet for children due to their bright colouring - so it brings the image home.
The Met Museum holds another copy of this exquisite engraving.
Framed and glazed.
Medium: Engraving on hand-laid paper
Overall size: 19” x 23” / 49cm x 59cm
Year of creation: c. 1635
Condition: Artwork presents well. Minor discolouration in areas. Darkened.
Artist’s auction maximum: £3,200
Schelte Adams à Bolswert
Works by Schelte Adams à Bolswert are held in numerous public collections including at the British Museum, the Barber Institute of Fine Arts and the Art Institute of Chicago.
Learn more about Schelte Adams à Bolswert in our directory.