Besides being known for his participation in the production of retables, Pieter Coecke van Aelst is also a well-known painter of small devotional scenes that were often produced in series. The painter probably trained in the large workshop of Bernard van Orley in Brussels.
The Maastricht copy of the Holy Family is distinguished from other versions based on the same model by the sumptuous green damask cloth in the background. This striking motif, inspired by pomegranates and decorated with berries and sepals, was applied using a template, which has evidently been used more often. The template was originally Italian, but must have had considerable popularity and significance in the Netherlands. For a long time, the figure of Joseph, who is watching Mary and the Child, remained concealed beneath a later overpainting. The original composition was revealed again during a recent restoration. The apple in the foreground refers to the Fall of man, while the cherries, as ‘fruits of paradise’, refer to heavenly bliss.