59.0 x 70.0; Louis XVI French frame, carved and gilded with alternative acanthus CRE STELLA, Jacques; (French; 1596-1657) This Lyons-born painter became a close friend of his contemporary, the French painter Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665) in Rome. The painting is among the group of 10 French paintings bequeathed by the founder. To Hunter, this panel's particular attraction would have been Stella's close relationship with Poussin. In his catalogue entry for the painting Strange pointed out that 'In the figure of the St Joseph, we find much of the manner of Poussin, which is easily accounted for, when we consider that they were connected together in the strictest friendship.' Hunter seems to have been determined to add a Stella to his collection, earmarking another Holy Family by the painter in Strange's 1772 sale catalogue, which he did not buy.
Together with Poussin and Vouet (represented involuntarily in Hunter's collection by Mary Reproving Martha, cat. 33), Stella studied at the Accademia di S. Luca in Rome in the early 1600s. All became favourites at the court of Louis XIII (Stella was painter to the King), and were instrumental in introducing the classical manner to France, as eighteenth-century connoisseurs such as Reynolds, Mariette or Hunter knew very well.
Stella's fashionable chiaroscuro effect takes advantage of the gleaming 'black marble' support, which a number of painters in Rome were using at this time to add drama to nocturnal scenes. Hunter's painting was developed further in Stella's design for an engraving by François Poilly (1622-1693).