This charming, vividly colored Holy Family shows the rich palette, fleeting light effects, and atmospheric landscape populated with wild vegetation characteristic of 16th-century painting in Ferrara. Battista Dossi, younger brother of the renowned Dosso Dossi (c. 1486-1541/2), worked in conjunction with his brother for much of his career in the service of the Este court in Ferrara. He may also have been employed for some time in Raphael's workshop in Rome, as a letter of 1520 from Giuseppe Campori, the Ferrarese Dukes' agent in Rome, suggests. Battista's considerable originality emerges most clearly in the works he painted independently, after his brother's death in 1542. During this period, he continued to receive important commissions both from Duke Ercole II and Laura Dianti, former mistress of Duke Alfonso. Securely attributable works from this phase of his career include a Venus and Cupid in the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the two remarkable, bizarre allegories in the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Dresden, part of a series representing the different times of day commissioned in 1544 by Duke Ercole to decorate the rooms in his newly appointed apartments at the Palazzo del Corte.
The present previously unpublished panel exemplifies Battista's highly distinctive and original style, showcasing his talents as a colorist and inventive compositional designer. The dense, beautifully described foliage at right provides a striking contrast to the sweeping panorama at left, in which two travelers make their way along a winding path towards a distant town shrouded in a lavender fog before a remote, hazy blue mountain range. The central figures, whose intertwined hands provide the central focus of the composition, are characterized by a liveliness and vivacity typical of Battista's style, Joseph's fluttering robes and windswept hair suggesting the alacrity with which he has hurried to greet the seated Madonna and Christ child.