Christ blessing little children or Suffer little children to come unto me
Surrounded by his disciples, Christ sits enthroned at one end of the stairs. With a telling gesture he stretches his right hand out to a flock of women and small children at the bottom of the steps.
The text source for the motif is the evangelical tale of Jesus and infants:
"They were also bringing their babies to him, that he might touch them. But when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. Jesus summoned them, saying, "Allow the little children to come to me, and don't hinder them, for the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Most assuredly, I tell you, whoever doesn't receive the Kingdom of God like a little child, he will in no way enter into it" (Luke 18:15-17).
During the religious turmoil of the century of reformation, the motif was popularised by Lucas Cranach (1472-1553) under the impression of the emphasis that Martin Luther (1483-1546) had placed on this scriptural passage. In his struggle against the Anabaptists this became the main argument for the baptism of children and against the baptism of adults and rebaptism.
History of the painting
In Jordaens’ time the motif had long since ceased to connote Protestant faith. The fact that Jordaens in his later days belonged to Antwerp’s protestant minority has led some art historians to see, perhaps rightly, a connection between the choice of motif and his own private convictions.
The painting is a good example of how Jordaens was inspired by Rubens throughout his life. Some of the figures in the foreground are loosely based on Rubens’ altarpiece for the St. Bavo Cathedral in Ghent, which is now in the National Gallery in London. Jordaens survived Rubens by many years and, like so many other painters, turned towards a more classical style in the middle of the 1600s with a subdued palette and static composition. Traits of both styles are highly pronounced in Christ Blessing the Children. Some researchers have also chosen to see this change of style as an expression of Jordaens’ confessional beliefs.
Written by Eva de la Fuente Pedersen.
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