Attributed to Andrea Schiavone by Faulkner (see under Literature, 1845), and considered by Gustav Glück to be possibly by Sir Anthony van Dyck after Titian (1929), the painting was first identified as a work by Ricci by Otto Benesch (1939), a view subsequently endorsed by Ellis Waterhouse (1948), who believed it to be by Ricci after a Titian design (information recorded in the manuscript inventory of the Devonshire collection at Chatsworth).
This intimate scene depicting The Holy Family with the Infant Saint John the Baptist in a Landscape was tentatively identified by Daniels as The Rest on the Flight into Egypt but, given that the Christ Child is older and the Baptist is also present, it might represent what is often called 'The Return from Egypt'. The painting is quintessentially Venetian in character and Ricci has had particular recourse to Titian's pastoral religious scenes. Not only is the composition, setting and iconography very Titian-like but so is the rounded facial type of the Madonna: compare, for example, that in Titian's Madonna and Child with Saint Catherine and the Infant Baptist of circa 1530 in the National Gallery, London.1
The painting's indebtedness to Titian may have been at the behest of the patron who commissioned the work and this, together with the fact that it is in a fine English 18th-century carved and gilt wood frame, lends support to the hypothesis that the picture was executed for an English patron. Whether it was Lord Burlington who commissioned the painting – the second Christie's sale catalogue claims as much – must remain an open question. In any event it is recorded as hanging in the East Saloon at Chiswick House by 1845, and in the West Ante Room in 1863. It was probably removed from there in 1892 and is recorded at Chatsworth in 1933. By 1939 The Holy Family was hanging on the walls of the Red Velvet Room, which must have suited the warm tones of the painting particularly well.
A reduced replica, on paper, attributed to Joseph Goupy by Daniels, is in a private collection, Milan.
1. See H. Wethey, The Paintings of Titian, vol. I, The Religious Paintings, London 1969, fig. 35.
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