The Holy Family with a Little Bird, Murillo, circa 1650
Murillo’s Holy Family looks and acts like a normal family. Mary is spinning, Joseph’s workshop is nearby (at right), and this family has pets they play with. Jesus is blond, an historical impossibility – but then this is a Spanish painting, and blond-haired children were rare and prized in medieval Spain. The little bird is a goldfinch, a symbol of Christ’s Passion, since goldfinchs eat thistles and thorns like the ones used in the Crown of Thorns. Murillo’s Joseph is strong, young and in control, refuting paintings that showed him as an old man unlikely to have a sexual relationship with his wife Mary. Mary works quietly in the background, the ideal wife! Both parents are focussed on Jesus – as we should be, the artist implies.