Jan. 1 Art Minute: Juan Martínez Montañés, The Infant Christ

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Juan Martínez Montañés (Spanish, 1568-1649), The Infant Christ. Polychromed wood; polychromed and gilded wood base, about 1600-1606. Figure, 27 by 12 by 11 inches; pillow stand, 13 3/4 by 11 by 7 1/2 inches. Purchased with funds from the Libbey Endowment, Gift of Edward Drummond Libbey, 2011.3. Gallery 36

Juan Martínez Montañés (Spanish, 1568-1649), The Infant Christ. Polychromed wood; polychromed and gilded wood base, about 1600-1606. Figure, 27 by 12 by 11 inches; pillow stand, 13 3/4 by 11 by 7 1/2 inches. Purchased with funds from the Libbey Endowment, Gift of Edward Drummond Libbey, 2011.3. Gallery 36

Striking in its naturalism, this painted wood sculpture of Christ as the Holy Infant was originally a functional object used for religious purposes. It was created in an atmosphere of devotional fervor following the Council of Trent (1545-1563), in which the Catholic Church condemned the Protestant Reformation and re-emphasized such doctrines as the veneration of saints.

The 17th-century Spanish sculptor Juan Martínez Montañés of Seville, known as “the god of wood” (“El Dios de la Madera”) carved the sculpture with great sensitivity and mastery of anatomy. It was dressed in miniature ecclesiastical robes and likely annually carried in the grand procession of the Corpus Christi (“Body of Christ”). This procession honored the Eucharist — the Catholic sacrament in which the faithful partake of the consecrated bread and wine, the flesh and blood of Christ. The figure raises its right hand in a gesture of blessing, while its left hand probably held a cross. The downward gaze and sense of melancholy suggest a premonition of the adult Christ’s crucifixion and death.


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