The Holy Family with a Curtain, 1646 by Rembrandt

Following The Night Watch Rembrandt produced in the 1640s a series of rather intricate religious pictures. The most endearing picture of this type is The Holy Family with a Curtain. Such pictorial capriciousness, the trompe l'oeil, the curtain drawn across the picture, a painting of a painting, is common in Dutch art at the time but rare in the work of Rembrandt himself.

The whole picture is very small, with a painted frame and then a painted curtain, which is partially drawn across the picture. This may seem a curious convention today, but it was common in Holland at the time. Collectors liked to place little curtains in front of their pictures, which must have increased the charm and pleasure of showing a collection to friends, rather than bringing them into a cluttered room where the eye is distracted with so many interesting pictures.

The artist has created the archetypal happy family at home. The infant Christ clings to his mother with typical gesture as if he had been crying and his mother has just picked him up from the cradle for the sake of peace and quiet, while Joseph works at his carpentry in the background.