The Infant Jesus playfully holds out his arms to the young St John the Baptist, who stands transfixed in pious reverence. Positioned against an idealised southern landscape, the Holy Family forms a perfect triangular composition. Painted in Rome, the work is a programmatic image of Nazarene art. It reflects the enthusiasm of the supporters of this movement for the paintings of Raphael and their desire to arouse the "heart, soul and emotions" of the viewer. As an academic, Passavant also made an in-depth study of Raphael and is regarded as one of the founding fathers of modern art history.
Heinrich Anton Cornill d’Orville (1790–1875), merchant and art lover from Frankfurt, was a member of the Städel administration at the time the painter and art historian Johann David Passavant held the position of Städel gallery inspector in the mid-nineteenth century. Together, they went to the memorable auction in The Hague in 1850, where the collection of the Dutch royal court went under the hammer. They bought Jan van Eyck’s ‘Lucca Madonna’, among other works. In 1902 his heirs presented the museum with a portrait of Cornill d’Orville in his memory.