This is the first painting that started my interest in the connection between theology of the family and classic art with its very innovative presentation, not only the connection between the Divine Trinity and the Holy Family, but the Trinity and all families. Just as the origin of the universe and all reality stems from a divine family, really the first Holy Family of Father, Son and their Holy Spirit, so is each family indeed divine as a reflection of God Himself, as we learn in session 3 of the Family Project.
What we see in this painting is a vertical and horizontal presentation, the vertical of course being the Heavenly Trinity with the Holy Spirit descending as the dove from the Father upon the Christ child. The horizontal presentation is the trinity of the holy family revealing the humanity of Christ as well as the mystery of all families: one flesh of mother and father coming together in their love which typically brings forth new life, a creation of their own flesh who is one flesh with them. A human trinity. A small but important detail about this piece is where the Christ child is standing. It is the stone the builders rejected which will become the cornerstone who is Christ. (Matt. 21:42)
The focal center of the painting is also the center of history, God who became flesh – fully God and fully man – to be our Redeemer. This also shows that in Christ, heaven and earth come together in a real and dramatic way, flesh and spirit. The incarnation doesn’t allow Christians to be Platonist or Gnostics, those who believe that the spirit is superior to the physical. All of it, as God’s creation, is good. Some believed in the early days of the Church that God could never actually be flesh because it was too degrading and only appeared as flesh. They were called Docetists. Paintings like this and many others (this dramatic one particularly) are a rebuke to this heresy and taught believers that this view was incorrect.
Murillo was a Spaniard painting in the Baroque tradition, living through the middle part of the 17th Century. He was widely famed for producing a great many sacred subjects as well as playful and warm everyday scenes of children and mothers.