Liberal Arts Blog — Edinburgh: Raphael, “The Holy Family,” Velazquez “Old Lady Frying Eggs,” and Church “Niagara”

John Muresianu
4 min readMay 7, 2021


Liberal Arts Blog — Friday is the Joy of Art, Architecture, Design, Film, and All Things Visual Day

Today’s Topic: Edinburgh: Raphael, “The Holy Family,” Velazquez “Old Lady Frying Eggs,” and Church “Niagara”

Last week, Vienna. Two weeks ago, Stockholm. Three weeks ago, Moscow. This week, Edinburgh — as we continue the tour of European art galleries to which I have never been. The first of today’s picks is from the Italian Renaissance, the second from the Spanish Golden Age, and the third from the Hudson River School of mid-19th century America. Experts — please chime in. Correct, elaborate, elucidate.

RAPHAEL (1483–1520) “The Holy Family with the Palm Tree” (1506)

1. What is most striking about this scene is the prominence of Joseph.

2. Most Holy Family scenes have a focus on Jesus or Mary.

3. Can any experts provide any enlightenment on this score?

NB: Raphael is most famous for “The School of Athens” — one of four frescoes in the “Stanza della Segnatura” in the Apostolic Museum in the Vatican in Rome. Tragically, he died young, allegedly from too much sex, on Good Friday, 1520, which was, according to Vasari, also his birthday.

DIEGO VELAZQUEZ (1599–1660) “Old Lady Frying Eggs” (1618) — “chiaroscuro” and photographic realism

1. The eggs look like fried eggs from a distance but if you look closely you will see that they are swimming in a liquid and are probably better described as poached.

2. Case study in “chiaroscuro” — “with a strong light source coming in from the left illuminating the woman, her utensils and the poaching eggs, while throwing the background and the boy standing to her right into deep shadow. Here the chiaroscuro is very intense, so much so that it would be impossible to see the wall at the bottom of the painting but for the basket hanging from it; it simultaneously manages to combine the murky darkness and high contrasts of light and shadow with the use of subtle hues and a palette dominated by ochres and browns. The composition is organized as an oval with the middle figures in the nearest plane, thus drawing in the viewer.”

3. “The realism is nearly photographic and shows everyday plates, cutlery, pans, pestles, jugs and mortars, capturing the special shine on a glass surface and the light’s play on the melon carried by the boy. The boiling pan is particularly well-captured, with its reflections and the whites of the eggs. Velázquez also worked particularly hard on the detail of the two figures’ hands.”

NB: Velazquez was the great painter of the second half of the “Spanish Golden Age” (the “Siglo de Oro”) under the reign of Philip IV (1605–1665). El Greco (1541–1641) — was the master of the first half under Philip II (1527–1598).

FREDERICK CHURCH (1826–1900) “Niagara Falls, from the American Side” (1867)

1. Church was a member of the “Hudson River School” of American artists. Their theme was “sublime” nature and the “awe” it inspires.

2. Nothing captures this theme better than Niagara Falls which became a metaphor for the “manifest destiny” of the United States.

3. This is Church’s largest painting (8 feet by 7 feet) and the only one of his paintings in a European collection.

NB: Church’s most influential rendering of Niagara (from the Canadian side) was painted ten years earlier. See second link below.,_from_the_American_Side



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John Muresianu

Passionate about education, thinking citizenship, art, and passing bits on of wisdom of a long lifetime.