A THOUSAND WORDS
Poussin's The Holy Family on the Steps
At first blush, Nicolas Poussin's painting The Holy Family on the Steps (1648) is a restrained and classical version of the conventional Holy Family of a thousand Christmas cards, or rather, an extended Holy Family with Saints Elizabeth and John (who, after all, must have been frequent visitors). Mary and Jesus occupy the central space; above Mary's right shoulder stands an urn filled with their special flower, the violet of humility. The open air above Jesus' head creates a kind of natural halo. At the left, Elizabeth directs her gaze toward Mary, and the infant John offers his baby co . . .