Christmas with the Holy Family

The FREE Art Guide, available in audio and print, has been compiled by Dr Ursula Betka, Art Historian, Teacher and Iconographer, and is narrated by Robyn Moore, Professional Speaker and Voice Artist. Available at:

Photo: Missionary Society of St Columban

Photo: Missionary Society of St Columban

The Madonna del Velo; Madonna di Loreto
Oil on panel, mid-16th century, copy after Raphael (Raphaello Sanzio), The Holy Family

The image of the Holy Family of Jesus was held in much devotion by Italian families, particularly during the Italian Renaissance. The Madonna del Velo (of the veil) depicts a centralized figure of the Virgin Mary, who lovingly extends a transparent veil toward the Christ Child. Jesus gleefully lifts his hands in interactive play with his mother. Nearby in the shadows, Joseph adoringly gazes upon the joyful child.

The Virgin's youthful beauty, the child's chubby well-fed body, along with the exchange of affection, work to enhance the sense of the Holy Family as ordinary, and above all, deeply human. This poignant and domestic glimpse of the Holy Family points to the emphasis on Jesus's humanity in popular devotion, an enduring legacy that emerged with the teachings of St Francis of Assisi some three centuries earlier.

This painting is an important copy of Raffaello Sanzio’s much loved depiction of the Holy Family. It conveys the strong influence of Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci in Florence, particularly evident in the solid figures, flowing light-reflective drapery, and soft smoky shadows. The rich palette of green, orange and turquoise brings an exoticism to this otherwise domestic scene. Yet divine light emanates from the Christ child, which in turn illuminates the mother’s face and creates a luminous sheen in the fabrics. Raphael’s numerous paintings of the Madonna and Child express a profound serenity and deep humanity, which epitomized the High Renaissance values of ideal beauty and harmony.

What one Columban supporter said about this year’s Calendar and Art Guide...

“It was not until a couple of years ago that I realised that the Columban Calendar came with a free art guide describing all the paintings.

After learning so much from the descriptions, I cannot wait for my Calendar to arrive each year. I look through all the artwork before going to the art guide on the Columban website. At my leisure I can read and listen to the descriptions.

My favourite paintings this year are the front cover of the Virgin Mary and Daniel in the Lions Den in July.”

Listen to "Christmas with the Holy Family"

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2024 Columban Art Calendar

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