At first glance, this may appear to be nothing more than a genre scene of an artisan and his family, but it is a depiction of the Holy Family in Joseph's carpenter shop - an apocryphal theme that first appeared in the late fifteenth century and was very popular with Rembrandt and his circle. At the left Joseph works at his bench, sawing through a board, while to the right the seated Virgin tends to her distaff. At the lower left two sketchily indicated children, presumably Christ and the infant St. John the Baptist, are seated and kneeling beside Joseph's lumber, perhaps as a prefiguration of the Crucifixion. A central window appears in the back wall.
Rembrandt treated this theme repeatedly, with wonderfully varied imagery. The drawing shows the interior of the carpenter shop, though now dimly lit. Rembrandt seems to be as concerned with exploring the workings of interior illumination as with the imagined domestic life of the Holy Family