The Holy Family with the Dragonfly
|Dimensions||23.81 cm × 18.4 cm (9.375 in × 7.25 in)|
The Holy Family with the Dragonfly is an engraving by the German artist Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528) from approximately 1495. It is quite small but full of intricate detail. A very popular image, subject to pirating within five years of creation, it appears in collections, including the Indianapolis Museum of Art and the UK Royal Collection.
The Holy Family with the Dragonfly, alternately known as The Holy Family with the Butterfly, The Holy Family with the Locust, and The Virgin with the Dragonfly, is an early engraving by Dürer. It depicts both the Holy Family and the Holy Trinity, as the Virgin Mary sits on a bench holding Jesus with Joseph beside them, while God the Father and the Holy Ghost in the form of a dove look down from the clouds. In the lower right corner is an insect frequently identified as a dragonfly. However, Dürer may have intended it as a butterfly, a creature whose dramatically transformative life-cycle makes it a perfect symbol of resurrection and redemption. The abundance of beautifully-rendered textures in the richly detailed landscape show how early Dürer mastered the art of engraving.
The exact date of creation is not known. It may have been an imitative piece from his apprenticeship, a copy of older master such as Martin Schongauer. The precise shape of Dürer's monogram is most similar to works dated 1494-95, and the presence of a gondola in the background places it after his 1494 trip to Venice. It is the first print on which he placed his monogram, and the only one in which the D is lowercase. By placing his mark on it, he claimed authorship of the work, unlike the numerous anonymous artists of his day. This act of ownership offered no protection, however, since his international renown as an artistic genius meant copies appeared throughout Italy and Germany by 1500.
In Dürer's Germany, Mary and Jesus were grounded and human, making them highly sympathetic for mere mortals. That meant tender scenes such as this were extremely popular. Dürer made many prints of this theme to be sold in shops and by traveling salesmen so worshipers could paste them into books or attach them to walls as devotional objects.
- Lee, Ellen Wardwell; Robinson, Anne (2005). Indianapolis Museum of Art: Highlights of the Collection. Indianapolis: Indianapolis Museum of Art. ISBN 0936260777.
- "The Holy Family". The Royal Collection. 2011. Retrieved 12 April 2012.
- "Exhibition of Albert Durer's engravings, etchings, and dry-points, and most of the woodcuts executed from his designs". Internet Archive. 1888. Retrieved 12 April 2012.