Suffer Little Children to Come unto Me, c. 1618-1620
Anthony van Dyck
oil on canvas
131.4 x 198.2 cm
National Gallery of Canada (no. 4293)
Past and present come together: the family of one of the painter's contemporaries appears in a biblical scene. Their portraits are carefully observed and distinctive, while the Christ and the apostles are treated more generically. The unidentified family may have commissioned the work to commemorate their eldest son's first communion - to which Christ's blessing would refer. This painting dates to the painter's early years in Antwerp, when he was associated with Rubens' studio. As he painted, van Dyck altered the composition: in the shadow between the mother and father can just be seen the first idea for the placement of a head, later abandoned. He also enlarged the painting: slight differences in the paint to the left and at the base show the original extent of the painted surface.