The Holy Family

The Holy Family

Rutilio Manetti

oil on canvas
96 x 123 cm
source of the artwork

donated by Giacomo Pozzi in 1936

short description

This painting was correctly attributed to Manetti by Roberto Longhi in a communication to Antonio Corbara, who reports it in his catalogue entries for the Soprintendenza drafted in 1951.

Light plays a key role in the painting, highlighting the figures, defining their volumes and imparting substance to their apparel.

An ageing St. Joseph and the Virgin contemplate the slumbering Christ Child, the focal point in the painting, on whom their tender gazes dwell. But the pose of the mother and the son on her lap also contains an explicit allusion to the iconography of the Pietà, and Jesus’s slumber echoes that of the death awaiting him. The clear and balanced composition, with its rustic, unassuming figures almost sculpted by the source of light, reflects Manetti’s style in the later 1620s. In fact, it is precisely his handling of light, so similar to that in the altarpiece of St. Anthony the Abbot Exorcising a Possessed Woman in the Basilica of San Domenico in Siena, dated 1628, that suggests a similar date for the painting in the Pinacoteca di Faenza (Bagnoli 1978).

inventary n°

This painting may be identified as the “Mad.a et Giesù, San Giuseppe di Rutilio” (“Virgin and Jesus, St. Joseph by Rutilio”) recorded in an inventory drafted on the death of a Sienese aristocrat named Emilio Tantucci on 29 August 1638, or else it might be the Holy Family on canvas in a black frame decorated with gold, listed among the possessions of Domenico Manetti, the painter’s son, in 1663 (Ciampolini 2006).

Federico Argnani (1881) thought that the picture was by Ribera. It was not until 1951 that Antonio Corbara, who had been tasked with drafting the entry for the Soprintendenza di Bologna, mentioned a communication from Roberto Longhi identifying Rutilio Manetti as the artist, an attribution that no scholar has ever questioned since.

Alessandro Bagnoli dated the work c. 1628 on the strength of its strong similarity with an altarpiece depicting St. Anthony the Abbot Exorcising a Possessed Woman in the Basilica of San Domenico in Siena, painted in that year. The clear and balanced composition and the depiction of strong, powerful figures who almost appear to be sculpted by the light coming from a specific source, are distinctive features of Manetti’s work in the later 1620s such as the Lucretia now in the Chigi Saracini collection or the Ecstasy of St. Jerome in the collections of the Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena.

After showing interest in the structured forms of the classicists, especially Guercino, and studying the artificial, sharply contrasting chiaroscuro of Gherardo delle Notti, Manetti turned his attention to Caravaggio’s exploration of reality. The painting is imbued with a clear feeling of tenderness, which we can read in the affectionate gazes of the Virgin and St. Joseph as they watch over the slumbering child in her lap while Joseph lovingly holds his hand. Yet the painting also contains an explicit allusion to the iconography of the Pietà, and the Christ Child’s deep sleep seems to foreshadow that of Christ lying in his grieving mother’s lap after his death on the cross.

ARCHI 1957
A. Archi, La pinacoteca di Faenza, Faenza 1957, p. 34.

F. Argnani, La Pinacoteca Comunale di Faenza, Faenza 1881, pp. 40-41.

Rutilio Manetti 1571-1639, exhibition catalogue (Siena Palazzo Pubblico 15 June – 15 October 1978) ed. A. Bagnoli, Florence 1978, p. 115, n. 48

S. Casadei, Pinacoteca di Faenza, Bologna 1991, p. 13, n. 21.

Caravaggio e l’Europa. Il movimento caravaggesco internazionale da Caravaggio a Mattia Preti, exhibition catalogue, (Milan, Palazzo Reale, 15 October 2005 – 6 February 2006; Vienna, Lichtenstein Museum, Vienna 5 March – 9 July 2006) ed. M. Ciampolini, Milan 2005, pp. 454-455, n. VII. 10

CORBARA 1951-1957
A. Corbara, Entries for the Catalogo generale dell’opere d’arte mobili della Soprintendenza per i Beni Artistici e Storici di Bologna, 1951-1957, n. 168

C. Del Bravo, “Su Rutilio Manetti”, Pantheon, XXIV, 1966, pp. 40-41.

The images are the property of the Pinacoteca Comunale di Faenza. For the use of the images, please write to

written by
Sveva Carnevale