Set in a contemporary Dutch interior, The Holy Family by Night was long mistaken for an ordinary genre piece. In fact, it depicts Mary and her mother Anne seated alongside the baby Jesus. As Many reads, Anne, dozing, holds a rope which she has been using to rock the cradle. The figure of Joseph is just visible beneath the staircase, tapping liquid into a barrel.
On the occasion of the painting’s acquisition by the Rijksmuseum in 1965, its director A.F.E. van Schendel commented upon the use of light to create mood and atmosphere. “Rarely,” he said, “did the artist show himself so peaceful, captured by the play of light on…silent objects. An atmosphere of tenderness surrounds the Child, an enclosed space around which night is falling. Marvelous how Rembrandt could convey grandeur in intimacy.”