ORLEY, Bernaert van
(b. 1491/92, Bruxelles, d. 1542, Bruxelles)

Holy Family

Oil tempera on wood, 90 x 74 cm
Museo del Prado, Madrid

The infant running to his mother initiates a diagonal train of movement which leads through Mary to the kindly, ageing Joseph behind. The grouping of the main figures thus introduces both asymmetry and depth to the pictorial plane. With great artistic intelligence, Orley balances this on the left by means of the two angels parallel to the plane, one approaching with a wicker basket of flowers and one hovering overhead and bearing a golden crown. Christ serves to link together the various elements of the painting. His left hand reaches up to his mother's shoulder, his eyes are raised towards the crown with which he will one day make Mary Queen of Heaven, while his right arm gestures towards the apple in Joseph's hand - a symbol of the sin which Jesus has come to conquer.

Orley can here be seen as a painter mediating between two stylistic eras. While lovingly executed details of material and texture remain the prominent focus of his interest, he also acknowledges the masters of the High Renaissance in his skilful balancing of depth and plane and in his delicate gradation of colour in the receding landscape. Orley is known both as a painter of large altarpieces and as a portraitist.