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Gallery Text

A Tuscan contemporary of Caravaggio, Orazio Gentileschi began his career in the Eternal City and later worked in Genoa, France, and England, conveying the innovations of early seventeenth-century Roman painting to other European centers. This work emphasizes the sacramental meaning of Christ’s birth by foreshadowing his death. The Child sleeps in the Virgin’s lap, his languid pose reminiscent of a Pietà. He rests on a white swaddling cloth that may allude to a burial shroud, while his mother draws a transparent veil over his head. In his left hand he holds an apricot, the forbidden fruit, which refers to the original sin that his death on the cross will redeem. Before a dark void, the Virgin and Child are rendered as palpable presences acting within our world — a theatrical presentation enhanced by the close cropping of the composition and the stark, Caravaggesque contrast of the dramatically illuminated figures and impenetrable background.

Identification and Creation
Object Number
Orazio Gentileschi, Italian (1563 - 1639)
The Virgin with the Sleeping Christ Child
Other Titles
Alternate Title: The Madonna with the Sleeping Christ Child
Work Type
c. 1610
Level 2, Room 2400, European Art, 17th century, Rome and Its Influence in the Seventeenth Century
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Physical Descriptions
Oil on canvas
99.8 x 85.3 cm (39 5/16 x 33 9/16 in.)
frame: 133 x 118.6 x 8.5 cm (52 3/8 x 46 11/16 x 3 3/8 in.)
Private collection, Milan (1931). Count Alessandro Contini-Bonacossi, Florence (1939-55) sold; [through Thomas Agnew & Sons, London, April 14, 1976] to William A. Coolidge, gift; to Fogg Art Museum, 1976.
Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Gift through William A. Coolidge in memory of Marian Lady Bateman
Accession Year
Object Number
European and American Art
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Publication History

R. Ward Bissell, "Orazio Gentileschi's 'Young Woman with a Violin'", Bulletin of the Detroit Institute of Arts (Detroit, 1967), vol. 46, no. 4, pp. 71-77, repr. as fig.7

Sydney J. Freedberg, "Lorenzo Lotto to Nicolas Poussin", Apollo (May 1978), vol. 107, no. 195, pp. 389-397, p. 393-394, repr. p. 395 as pl. IV

Benedict Nicolson, The International Caravaggesque Movement: Lists of Pictures by Caravaggio and his Followers through Europe from 1590 to 1650, Phaidon (Oxford, 1979), pp. 53, 225

Kristin A. Mortimer, Harvard University Art Museums: A Guide to the Collections, Harvard University Art Museums/Abbeville Press (Cambridge, MA; New York, NY, 1985), no. 180, p. 158, repr.

Benedict Nicolson, Caravaggism in Europe, Umberto Allemandi & C. (Turin, 1990), vol. 1, pp. 114, 220, vol. 2, pl. 205

Edgar Peters Bowron, European Paintings Before 1900 in the Fogg Art Museum: A Summary Catalogue including Paintings in the Busch-Reisinger Museum, Harvard University Art Museums (Cambridge, MA, 1990), p. 47, color plate; pp. 108, 342, repr. b/w cat. no. 714

Erich Schleier, "An Unknown St. Catherine of Alexandria by (or after?) Orazio Gentileschi", Gazette des Beaux-Arts (February 2000), v. 135, no. 6, pp. 167-170, p. 169 and cover, repr. in color

Keith Christiansen and Judith Mann, Orazio and Artemisia Gentileschi, exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, NY, 2001), cat. no. 28, pp. 144-147, repr. in color

[Reproduction only], Saint Louis Art Museum Magazine, (April 2002-June 2002)., repr. in color p. 3

Stephan Wolohojian, ed., Harvard Art Museum/ Handbook, Harvard Art Museum (Cambridge, MA, 2008), p. 93, repr

Exhibition History

Orazio and Artemisia Gentileschi, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 02/14/2002 - 05/12/2002; Saint Louis Art Museum, St. Louis, 06/15/2002 - 09/15/2002

Re-View: S422-423 Western Art of the Middle Ages & Renaissance, Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Cambridge, 08/16/2008 - 06/18/2011

Ancient to Modern, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 01/31/2012 - 06/01/2013

32Q: 2400 French/Italian/Spanish, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 11/01/2014 - 01/01/9999

Subjects and Contexts

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This record has been reviewed by the curatorial staff but may be incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. For more information please contact the Division of European and American Art at am_europeanamerican@harvard.edu