With Baldassare Perruzzi, Domenico Beccafumi was one of the greatest painters of the Sienese High Renaissance. Although none of Beccafumi's works are signed and dated, his highly personal style has facilitated almost unanimous agreement regarding the definition of his oeuvre. The earliest documented works by him can be dated to around 1507-10 (see, for example, The Madonna and Child with the infant Saint John the Baptist, private collection, Florence). It is likely that Beccafumi left Siena for Rome shortly after 1508, the year in which his compatriot, Giovanni Antonio Bazzi, il Sodoma, was recommended to Julius II by Sigismondo Chigi to work on the decoration of the new rooms in the Vatican Palace. However, the innovations seen in his work at the time are due more to his contact with Florentine art than that of his adopted city.
Beccafumi assimilated the art of Fra Bartolommeo, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and Raphael, all of whom laid the foundation for the maniera moderna in the early years of the 16th century. These influences are apparent in works such as his 1513 Trinity (Pinacoteca Nationale, Siena, Inv. no. 384), in which Beccafumi envelops his compositions in a subtle light that vibrates with saturated color. In the present work, this same intense play of light and tone breaks up the classically conceived composition and, together with the narrative humor that he injects into his work, conveys a powerfully emotive tension to his principal figures.
The present Holy Family with Saint John the Baptist was first identified as a work by Beccafumi in 1982 by Giulio Briganti, who noted its similarities to the Holy Family with Saint John in the Uffizi of circa 1518-19. Toretti (loc. cit.) has remarked on the monumentality of the present painting, noting that the strongly modelled, dynamically posed Christ Child reflects the influence of Michelangelo, while the immobile central figure of the Madonna recalls the art of Piero della Francesca. In date it can be compared with the Holy Family with Saints John and Catherine of Siena, executed circa 1516-7, sold at Christie's, London, 16 December 1998, lot 45 (£441,500=$743,641).