The Christ Child and the Infant John the Baptist, c. 1490
Sandro Botticelli, Workshop of
egg tempera on poplar
39.1 x 29.2 cm
National Gallery of Canada (no. 3524)
"... have pictures of saintly children or young virgins in the home, in which your child, still in swaddling clothes, may take delight and thereby be gladdened by acts and sights pleasing to childhood."
Cardinal Giovanni Dominici, "On the Education of Children" c.1410.
Images of the infants Jesus and John were widely popular in Renaissance Florence. The two boys embrace, mirroring the innocent play of the children whose parents Dominici addressed. This emphasis on the human encourages our empathy. Botticelli rejected overt symbolism: John once offered Jesus a rose - a reference to his suffering and death - yet the artist later removed it, and only a faint trace now remains. Only Jesus' strange disengagement may suggest his destiny. While the subtle concept was Botticelli's, he delegated its execution to his workshop.